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Tears of a Hero

September 1, 2009

Noah may have been given a short life but he’s been given deeply loving parents and friends, doctors who gave him everything they had to keep him healthy and alive, a wonderful, life-loving spirit, and now, a hero who was able to give him more than he ever dreamed.


The day after my 24th wedding anniversary, I picked up my father and brought him to work with me, glad to spend a few hours with him in at his old workplace, Hardware Sales. As he sat in my office, I received an email from Diana, who worked for our company a few years earlier. I showed it to my father, who knew Diana and also knew of the life-threatening illness of her son. When he read that the cancer had progressed rapidly and that Noah had “four-five weeks at best,” his eyes welled up with tears. My father was stunned at Diana’s courage and couldn’t imagine what she was going through. When I tried to comment, the words didn’t come. As in too many times in the past, our words were replaced by tears.

Then, I began to think of small moments of lightness that can help sustain a parent who has lost a child. I thought of what my parents told me after they went to the Kenny Goldman League championship games on June 14th, exactly 25 years to the day that Judy and I first met. They told me how they sat and watched one of the championship games between an undefeated team and one with one loss. A black couple sitting next to them asked which one of the basketball players was my parents’ grandson. My mom and dad answered that their son wasn’t playing, that their son was Kenny Goldman, whom the league was named after. My father said that they could see the tears in their eyes as they admitted they read about Kenny and were deeply touched by Kenny’s parents being there with them. My mom and dad became more than passive watchers, transfixed by their sudden bond with this couple. As the close game neared its end, my parents felt guilty that they were rooting for the underdog team that the black couple’s son played for. But that didn’t stop them from cheering when the son drove to the basket and sank a shot with a few seconds left to win the championship.

The boy’s league shirt had the number 23 on the back of it, the date in December Kenny was born.

            Was it destiny, I thought when I heard the story? Was Kenny there, helping Number 23 sink the game-winning basket? Were my parents there because they needed to see that game and meet that family? Who knows?

Who knows why a little boy is struck down by an automobile at age 13? Who knows why a little boy has interminable cancer so young?

            All we know are the moments that make life and death meaningful. When I read Diana’s words, I could feel her sadness but also her excitement about Brandon Inge’s visit. She wrote on Wednesday, “Noah has a special visitor coming to visit him on Friday. Noah has been asking for Brandon Inge to come and see him. He wants to ask Brandon to hit a home run just for him. The hospital contacted him and he is coming to visit Noah on Friday. He is so excited and can’t wait to show him his room and where he hung his picture and show him his toys. Also, he wants to play baseball with Brandon. As long as the steroid is still working, we are going to let him do whatever he wants. Also, we are letting Noah spend the time with just him and Brandon. Brandon is his friend and we aren’t getting in the middle of that. We aren’t having anyone else at the house and we want this to be a special moment just for Noah. Of course, I will have the video camera running if they play baseball. That will be priceless!!!”

            I thought of the legend of Babe Ruth telling a boy who was dying that he was going to hit a home run for him and did. But Brandon Inge was a normal ball player, a 3rd baseman known for fielding who surprisingly made the MLB All Star game this year for his first time. Yet, Brandon was no Babe Ruth, and he was hurting besides. His knees have been hurting but that hasn’t stopped him from wanting to play.

            When Friday night came, I looked on my cell phone to see if possibly Brandon Inge had hit a home run. I smiled when I saw that he hit one in the second inning, leading the Tigers to a win over Tampa Bay, and I wondered if that home run was for Brandon. I emailed Diana that night and she wrote back at 10:00pm, “Yes, that was for little man. He came over today and stayed for two hours. It was way cool!!”

At 11:25 that night, Katrina Hancock from Channel 4 News said that Brandon Inge had hit the home run for “Noah, a child at Mott Children’s Hospital.” The next day, John Lowe wrote on and next day in the Sunday Free Press, “In the moments after he homered Friday night, Brandon Inge broke down in the Tigers' dugout. ‘I lost it,’ he said. ‘I was crying. That's never happened to me during a game before.’” (“Tigers’ Brandon Inge gets emotional after HR,” John Lowe, Detroit Free Press, August 30, 2009). He wrote that Inge wept because he was thinking of a “5-year-old named Noah” and that Noah had asked Inge to hit a home run for him while Inge spent 2 hours entertaining Noah. Inge’s 25th homer of the season and 121st of his career, Lowe wrote, “seemed to have ascended near the top of his all-time list because of Noah.”

            On Sunday, Diana recapped Noah’s three months with Brandon Inge to her friends and on the Carepages website. She wrote that Noah met Brandon Inge on Wednesday, June 4th during an autograph session at the hospital and signed a picture for Noah that now hangs on his wall and how that night, he saw Brandon on TV and became a fan. She wrote that on June 7th, their friendship began when Brandon took Noah into the clubhouse to meet the team and the coach, Jim Leyland, and “Brandon said that Noah was ‘totally awesome’ while in the clubhouse with him.” Noah watched every Tigers game after that and “when Brandon didn’t get on base, he would get mad and yell at the TV.” Diana wrote that Noah attended Brandon’s fundraiser on July 9th, one day after Noah’s 5th birthday, and that Brandon was happy to see Noah and gave him a signed ball. “Then came the pain,” she admitted,” the bad scans, and the realization that Noah wasn’t going to make it.” She wrote, “I asked him what he would like to do. His answer was to see Brandon again and ask him to hit a home run for him. I asked if there was anything else and he said that he would like to go to another game.”
               Diana wrote that the hospital contacted Brandon’s wife, Shani, and let them know that Noah’s health was “rapidly deteriorating” and of Noah’s wish. She said when Brandon found out, he “instantly wanted to come and see him.” On Friday, August 28th, Brandon and Shani stayed at their house for over two hours in the afternoon before the game. Diana wrote, “After Noah showed Brandon his room and his basement full of toys, they played. Brandon signed a jersey for Noah and they exchanged friendship bracelets that Brandon is still wearing. Then, they built a pillow fort with every pillow in my house. Brandon sat in one end and Noah sat in the other. They hung out together, just the two of them” and Noah offered to share his superhero tattoos with Brandon and Shani’s two kids.

    That night, when Brandon hit the home run during his first at-bat, “Noah jumped up and down and yelled – He did it for me! He did it for me! Then he heard his name and he gave the look of wonder and turned to my mom and said, ‘I never thought I would hear my name on TV.’”

I thought of Ruth and remembered Maddie photographed by the Detroit Free Press with her hero, Kris Draper, and then Maddie and her dad in a tear-jerking bear-hug photograph at a Red Wings game two months before she died.

The day after the home run for Noah, I went to the Tigers game with my son, a gift for his 23rd birthday, and we surprised him when his two high school friends joined him. After that same game, Diana wrote, “thanks again to Brandon and Shani, Scott and I were able to grant Noah his final wish—we went to what will most likely be his last game.” Brandon gave Noah and his parents a suite to sit in and made sure that Noah’s name was on TV again. And finally, Diana added, “waiting for Noah was the homerun ball that he hit Friday with a special note for Noah.”

            Noah may have been given a short life but he’s been touched with deeply loving parents and friends, doctors who gave him everything they had to keep him healthy and alive, a wonderful, life-loving spirit, and now, a hero who was able to give him more than he ever dreamed. Thanks to Brandon and Shani Inge, Diana wrote, “we were able to give Noah the three things that he wanted. He saw Brandon again, asked for the homerun (and got it), and went to another game. How can you put into words how much that means to Noah, my family and us? I can’t. All we can say is – Thank you Shani. Thank you Brandon.”

            I have been thinking how Noah is lucky to have a cast of heroes surrounding him. I have also been thinking of another hero who, before he died two years ago, touched thousands with his inspiring words. Less than two months before he died, when he and his family realized his chemotherapy was no longer effective, Miles Levin still wanted to keep fighting because “life is the most breathtakingly amazing thing I could ever imagine.” He wrote, “The growth that my having and dying from cancer creates in the lives of so many thousands of people overshadows and outweighs most personal grief.”

            I wondered if the story of a baseball player’s gift of friendship with an exuberant little boy named Noah would be enough for his friends and family to “overshadow and outweigh personal grief.”
            I kept thinking of the words of Miles Levin written 55 days before he died, “All good things must end….Whatever it is, it’s going to end, and when it does, if you can say, ‘I enjoyed that,’ that’s as much as you can be given, so let that be enough.”

            Noah has been an inspiring gift to his parents, his family, and all his friends. He has touched the hearts and lifted the spirits of the Inges and thousands of others. He enjoyed every day of life that he was given. And he will never be forgotten.

            Let that be enough.  




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