When I was young and thought I could change the world I moved to the inner city with my husband and our two little kids. We did some decent things during our ten years there, I guess. We brought food to the homeless on Saturday mornings. We put up a neighborhood watch sign, and our yard became the hottest place to be if you were between the ages of 3 and 9. We rallied neighbors for weekly walks through the neighborhood, creating a sense of community and peace. We took our kids swimming at Martin Luther King Park and planted flowers and made friends. But none of that felt world-changing.
And then along came Antoine. He was an 8-year-old boy who never stopped smiling. When he needed a place to stay, he took the top bunk in my son’s room. And when he needed a home, he dumped a black garbage bag full of smelly clothes all over the floor. And when the time was right, he adopted our family as his very own. And that, finally, is when the world changed, for both of us.
My little boy is now a young man, and he’s still changing the world. He serves in the USAF. In Iraq, he was voted in as President of the Airman Council—the official morale booster. He hosted holiday meals so the troops could feel like a part of a family even when far from home, weekly gatherings to build community, and competitions to generate positive energy. He found a way for airmen and women to send videos to family members back home, to stay connected on a daily basis. He monitored living conditions and rallied his colleagues to participate in base clean up.
Back on American soil, Antoine organized “A Run to Remember” to honor those who went MIA or who were POW or who gave their lives in service to their country. Participants ran with a paper in hand that named the people they were remembering. Antoine volunteered with Special Olympics as the designated Hugger. His job was to stand at the end of the track and welcome runners as they came in. “It was amazing,” he told me. “They were so happy to see me, and it was like the hug was their reward.” He’s part of a bike club that does charity runs and wounded soldier runs. Recently this “gang” descended on a children’s hospital where cancer patients (“kids so sick it hurt your heart,” he told me) were given teddy bears and words of cheer.
Antoine has made something of his life, and he makes life special for everyone around him. But that doesn’t mean things are easy. His ex-wife moved to Indiana with their little boy (my grandson), while Antoine is stuck far away in Florida where he is stationed. He feels the pressure of bills upon him. He looks out for his birth mom, and his brother is currently in jail. His fianceé recently had a cancer scare. Oh, how I wish I could swoop in and save him from the troubles of this world! Antoine doesn’t need saving, though. He presses on through the obstacles with dignity and courage.
Still, a trip with Ellen to Australia would bolster Antoine’s spirits. When he told me about this contest, he didn’t mention how Ellen makes him laugh (though she does); he commented on how she’s always helping people. Ellen is the kind of person Antoine admires—happy, engaged with life, and ready to lend a hand. What he doesn’t realize is that he is that same kind of person, and the one that everyone around him is admiring.