I suppose we are all headed for the same place someday, but I don’t think we really get too old as long as we are willing to learn from even the youngest and smallest among us. That became more apparent to me recently as I did some numbers crunching while trying to step out of a box I seem to have jumped into many moons ago.
I have had the opportunity in this job as an editor to work with many community volunteers and charity groups on community projects by promoting their efforts through stories in the newspaper. I have met some amazing people along the way and had happy associations with many of them. One of the most interesting was the legendary Jack Haley of Seal Beach who founded Capt. Jack’s restaurant in Sunset Beach. Back in the day, Jack coordinated the construction of the Seal Beach Police substation at the Seal Beach pier literally from the ground up. He was grateful enough of my work through the newspaper that he had my name etched in the plaque honoring all those who donated to the effort.
Lately, when I’ve happened to visit the plaque on strolls around that area and I’ve peeked at my name on the plaque it has felt different, somewhat foreboding. It almost seems like I’m looking at my name on a tombstone. Recently, it brought me back to a conversation I had a few years ago with a fellow journalist named John Murray who was my assistant editor at the time.
John said maybe someday he’d like to get out of journalism and work in some capacity for a non-profit/charity. I remember telling him that since I work with so many charity and community projects through my work that I think for the most part “I gave at the office.”
“You’re just kidding yourself,” he said.
A few months ago, I was looking at that pier side plaque and I recalled what John said. I could not help thinking, “shame on me.”
Perhaps it was finding out recently about my own parents’ involvement with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital that I felt maybe I should do something similar before I ran out of chances.
Perhaps sometimes, if your heart is in the right place, such an opportunity arises. It just so happened though, that I was invited by my friend Rosie Ritchie to accompany her and the members of the Miss Seal Beach Court, whom she directs and mentors, to Ronald McDonald House. They make monthly visits to cook breakfast for the families with patients at Miller Children’s and Women’s Hospital in Long Beach. It sounds simple enough, but knowing you will probably be meeting some kids who might be passing through this life a lot faster than you’d ever want to imagine, well, it’s not necessarily like turning on the TV and watching “Happy Days.” If there is one thing that shakes me up it’s thinking of kids who may, as the Neil Young song says may: “never grow up, never get to go to school, never get to fall in love, never get to be cool.”
I’ve gone with them twice now to Ronald McDonald House. I must say it’s been mostly a very pleasant experience. Perhaps it’s because I grew up with five sisters – whom I hardly ever see anymore since we live in vastly different parts of this big country, that it’s fun for me spending time with the kids from the Miss Seal Beach Court. I also hardy see my only daughter as she is engrossed in her studies in nursing school and preparing for her wedding next year.
So, they let me peel the potatoes, which I don’t mind. It just amazes me watching the girls go through their paces, putting the breakfast together. Like a pack of pretty Keebler elves, they work like a well-trained army. Thanks to growing up with so many sisters I can almost understand their female chatter, which might confound other guys. It seems funny and may sound silly, but the experience makes me feel at home.
Who would have thought I would get so much out of giving so little? However, the rubber hits the road as they say when we meet some of the children and the families who, unlike us, will not be going home shortly that day, but staying and continuing with their struggles. What I really find amazing though is watching the experience unfold in the faces of the members of the Miss Seal Beach Court. I admire the compassion they show to kids fighting life-threatening illness. They share their tiaras and crown for photo shoots and bring a little sunshine to fragile little lives. They do it all with a smile on their face and I wonder what I’m doing there. I guess it helps keep me young. I guess it keeps me alive.
Dennis Kaiser is the editor of the Sun Newspaper.