Friday, February 03, 2012

"It makes a difference for this one." - A Single Starfish, by Loren Eiseley

While this story stands pretty strong on its own, the short story, "A Single Starfish" by Loren Eiseley may add to your appreciation of what this story means to me.


One year ago, when I was still reeling after the loss of my sister, and still raging at the cancer that robbed her of a good and purposeful life, the local paper did a story on a retired couple who started up a cancer support group.  This all-volunteer support group raises funds to help cancer patients with their bills and medical expenses.  All the money they raise ends up in the hands of these clients in the form of vouchers or a check made out directly to the utility company or to a landlord for rent.  No one gets cash.  They get whatever it is that they need.
Most important, I know my five dollar donation is going to end up in the hands of someone fighting cancer.  No administrative suit is going to peel off his percent and send it on down the line.

I fell in love with them immediately.  I wanted to help.  I wanted to give them money.
You guys, I wanted to crochet them something.  (You know me.  That means it's special.)

So I called them up out of the blue.
I introduced myself as Roses from the radio station.  In case they'd heard of me. 
Said I wanted to help, but I didn't know how.  I didn't have the kind of schedule that would allow me to volunteer at events or anything.
We talked for a good long time on the phone.  They talked mostly, I nodded a lot and kept saying, "That's what I like about you guys.  I've been looking for you."

After attending one of their meetings, I asked if they'd mind if I wrote a PSA (public service announcement) for their group. 
Mind?  You can do that?  Yes, please!
So, I did.  Wrote a script, voiced the commercial, got my boss's permission to run it on the station free of charge, and I put it in the stack to rotate with the other PSAs.  I e-mailed copies to other area radio stations, so there wasn't even any cash spent on postage. 
It's what I could do.  It cost me nothing.  It cost the radio station nothing because with everything digital, no additional materials were consumed, and it would run where there weren't any other commercials scheduled; it would fill time that would have been unpaid anyway.

Some people bake cookies.  I produce radio announcements.

That's where my contribution ended.  It took a couple days, and it was done.

That was last summer.
I feel odd still attending their meetings while having nothing more to offer.  I like to go because they share stories about the people they help.
Like the woman who couldn't work through the summer while taking chemo treatments, needed just one month's rent before she would be able to go back to work.  Done.
And the mother of two who had to choose between a prescription for herself or food for her children.  Didn't have to choose anymore.
The family of the 4-year-old boy with brain cancer who didn't have to worry about gas money to see specialists half a state away.

Every month, they have new stories to tell.
And I cry each time because I know this group has made a difference for each one of these people.

***

This past Tuesday, there was a message for me at work from this retired couple.  Could I please call them as soon as I could?
I figured it was something about the logo we'd discussed at the last meeting or maybe something I'd posted on Facebook.  Whatever.
Instead, it was a story they wanted to share.  It goes something like this:

Monday afternoon, they'd gotten a call from a man from our area living out of his van.  He had once beaten stage 4 lymphoma, but it was back.  His cash was gone because he'd spent the last of it on a major van repair.  (He had to live somewhere, right?)  On the 5th of the month, he'd get a few hundred dollars from government assistance, but before he could receive it, he was required to meet with a case worker in the next town over which he couldn't make because he was almost out of gas.  And... he was calling using the last few minutes left on his TracPhone.
The guy had nothing.  He just needed to hang on for a few more days before some cash came in.  But he couldn't quite make it.

Within hours, this couple verified his last known address, his medical condition, his story.
They met him at a gas station and filled his tank with gas, bought him minutes for his phone, then drove with him to the grocery store to buy him decent food... fresh fruit, a salad... and out of their own pocket paid for a bucket of chicken from the deli and potato wedges.
"This is the first hot meal I've had in a long time," the man told them.
He also said that as soon as his check came on the 5th, he'd pay it all back.
"No.  You won't.  We won't let you."

So, why did I have to call them and have them tell me this story before the regular meeting when they'd share it with everyone?
"We wanted to call you right away because this guy had nothing, had nowhere to turn.  But he heard your PSA on the radio yesterday.  That's why he called us."

***

That one PSA I thought wasn't enough.
Was everything to this man.

***

They waited on the phone while I wept.
"I have to tell you something," I said between sobs.  "Your PSA rotates with a couple dozen other PSAs.  Meaning once every 24 times or so that a PSA plays, it's gonna be yours.  Yesterday, your PSA came up a lot.  I thought that was really odd.  But now I know why."
"So he could hear it."
"He needed to hear it."

It made a difference... for this one.

15 comments:

Bou said...

You know I'm going to tell other people about this, right?

Everything happens for a reason. As my Dad says, "We are all woven together to make a fine tapestry..."

Bou said...

Do they have a paypal or a site where others can go and donate? Maybe you can throw it up on your sidebar...

Jen said...

You wrote it perfectly because I'm so crying at work now.
This is how you're reminded that what you do matters.

Roses said...

Bou, share your tissues with Jen already.

las794 said...

I don't know you from Adam's housecat, but I'm sending you a great big virtual {{{{HUG}}}}. What a great story!

Christie Critters said...

sniff.

Roses said...

::passes Bou's tissues to Christie::

Bou said...

I'm gunna run out of tissues...

Andy said...

Great story, Roses. Really.

I'm like Bou, curious about helping. Have they got a website, or could you e-mail me some contact info? I'd like to kick in a few bucks.

Roses said...

Bou and Andy, I'm truly considering how to handle that. To give out the group's name would reveal a bit about where I live... which wouldn't be horrible, but it would require a great leap of faith on my part.
In fact, months ago I wrote a post about this charity which included a link, but you can see I never published it.

However, consider that this group is regional. They only help people who live in this county. If you look around, you may find a group in your own area that serves people closer to you. While I would love your support for this charity, perhaps you'd rather send money to help people in your own backyard. Just a thought.

Zelmarific said...

That's the best damn story I've ever heard. Thank you.

Zelmarific said...

It reminds me, actually, of the vice principal of one of the schools where I teach. He has a little plaque on his desk that says something like, "Nothing you do for a child is ever futile. Anything you do, for any child, has value."

Of course, "any child" could be replaced with "any person".

You rock! :)

MeowLady said...

Yeah. I'm crying. You sure told it right. Blessings...

Moogie P said...

Thank you and that organization.

Moogie P said...

Thank you.