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A Million Wishes

November 23, 2009

 

“Merry Christmas to you, Noah, a reminder of my past. When I was 7 years old, my best friend, Scott Mudrack, died of cancer. I was young and never got a chance to say goodbye. When I heard about you, my friend came to mind and I was touched by your story. I hope you read this and realize that me and many others will never forget you, and that there are a million people out around the world wishing you a Merry Christmas, even if they didn’t have time to make a card saying so. This time, I speak for everyone who couldn’t. You have a friend in all of us.” From a handwritten card from Robert Brooks

 

Since the day Noah Biorkman’s parents decided to bring an early Christmas to Noah because it was unlikely he would make it to December 25th, they felt a web of emotions. When friends asked if there was anything they could do to help their son celebrate, Diana and Scott asked people who cared about Noah simply to send him a Christmas card.

Then, no one could have predicted that a simple Christmas Cards for Noah Facebook page would unleash the avalanche of responses that it has. After dozens of Noah’s family and friends spent the last three weeks opening and reading and counting cards, there were few adjectives to explain the overwhelming flood of messages.

            Over 100,000 wishes on Facebook and over one million Christmas cards have come from all over the world, from Texas and China, Tennessee and India, California and Israel, Japan and Great Britain, Ireland and the North Pole (yes, I guess there is one) in Canada. It was as if Santa himself had made Christmas special for Noah by delivering thousands and thousands of heartfelt wishes from children and parents and students and celebrities and politicians and athletes and soldiers in many different languages to a little boy and his family. The Biorkmans were unbelievably stunned by the tsunami of good wishes.

            Judy and I volunteered to help the Saturday before Thanksgiving and joined about 15 others, all of us on a sunny November afternoon, sorting and counting and reading and deciding what to do next with each card. We witnessed boxes and boxes of still unopened mail and looked upon boxes of donated toys and books and blankets. I went through one box filled with over a thousand cards that I only got halfway through, reading notes from kids and teachers and nuns and parents and families, all signing and giving their good wishes to a boy that was, that afternoon, taking a long nap.

The Michigan vs. Ohio State football game was on upstairs but no one cared too much about football as they were opening the cards, even though every member of the U of M team had signed a football for Noah and gave him a Michigan jersey with his name sewn on it. Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow, quarterback of the number-one-ranked Florida Gators, gave Noah a signed autograph and a jersey with his number and Noah’s name on it as well. There were signed baseballs, hockey sticks, pennants and photos with signatures of other teams as well.

Diana said that Noah had a lot of tumors on his body but that each day and each moment had been different and sometimes surprising. One day it looked like the end was near and the next day, Noah woke up, needing to pee and starving, asking for a big breakfast. His internal energy was hard to predict but the thankfulness he displayed to everyone for every gift was, according to the friends there, truly captivating and touching. He couldn’t believe everything he got while Diana was mystified at the responses. Yet, after three weeks of thousands of cards and gifts and the off-and-on, up-and-down health of Noah, she was clearly a little numb and just trying to deal with it and accept it all.

She showed us what she called the “cool box” which included jerseys and autographed photos and balls and charitable donations that Scott and she had to decide where to donate: maybe the U of M Mott Hospital or Make a Wish or maybe families who desperately needed money to care for their kids with cancer. She showed us a signed photo of Oprah with a note from her. Noah also received notes from Governor Granholm and Senator John Kerry and six American flags, one displayed on an American helicopter in Afghanistan on November 6th (she showed the photo of the flag and the name, Noah Biorkman, displayed on the helicopter.) I couldn’t keep track of all the amazing gifts that Noah received but it was hard to forget the signed personal letter from President Obama as well as a Medal of Honor that was given from a soldier with a note honoring Noah for his bravery.

After seeing all the notes and gifts from famous people, Judy asked if Noah received anything from Letterman or Leno and Diana surprisingly said that they just got something from Jay Leno the day before.

It’s easy to get excited when getting something from a famous person but when someone donates his entire coin collection or a medal or flag or just writes a personal note about how much they care, it is even more inspiring. To think that millions of people all over the world were touched enough to give of themselves heartfelt thoughts, greetings, prayers, good wishes, drawings, poems, and their blessings.

I was touched by, among other cards, a simple handwritten note from Robert Brooks and a simple wish on looseleaf paper with a red background that read: “Dear Noah, I hope you get better soon. I’m sorry you are sick. My name is Rockia. I am in the second grade at Old Redford Academy in Detroit. Sincerely yours, Rockia. Sincerely Rockia your friend. Get better Please, MayBe you will fill Better, I love you Noah. Please Get Better.” Next to the note, she drew a stick boy with red cheeks.

All I could think about after seeing so many cards from everywhere in the world was that here was a little second grade girl in Detroit, not too many miles away from Noah, pleading for him to get better. Amongst all of the greetings from Obama and Oprah and Governor Granholm and Leno and Tebow and soldiers and athletes was a simple wish from a second grade girl, one amongst a million wishes, but special in its own way.

The friends opening the cards shared stories from the last few weeks. They talked about how the outpouring of love and caring had renewed their faith in people. How could we not, I thought, have our hope renewed when witnessing such affection from so many strangers? A million wishes had come to South Lyon, Michigan, all with the hope of making Christmas special for a little boy who was facing his last moments of life.

A million wishes indelibly changed the lives of a boy and his mother and father and grandfather and grandmother and his friends. It made them realize that, as Robert Brooks said, they “had a friend in all of us.”

 

Noah died the day after the anniversary of the death of a beloved president who also died too young, 46 years earlier. According to Diana, Noah was not in pain. His family was with him at night and got to give him kisses and then they left. In the morning, Noah’s mother sat on the bed with her little boy and peacefully, he passed away.

Noah did not live until the actual day of Christmas but he was able to celebrate the holiday with Santa and his family and all of his friends, millions of them, from everywhere in the world.

             

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