The perfect trifecta of possibilities for my column this week was almost too good to be true for a huge college football fan like me — Notre Dame was ranked first in the country for the first time since the year I was born, Maryland and Rutgers joined the Big Ten, and ineligible Ohio State earned an undefeated season. But when I saw an inspirational video on Thanksgiving evening, I knew it took precedence over these historical sports milestones.
Stuffed with turkey, sides and pie, I lay awake in my room at midnight, absent-mindedly browsing the web, when I stumbled across a “Today” segment. It featured St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital’s “Thanks and Giving” Program on their show, borrowing from St. Jude’s motto, “Give thanks for the healthy children in your life, and give to those who are not.” This particular segment featured a grinning 10-year-old boy named Brennan Simkins.
Brennan described his journey through four bone marrow transplants starting at the age of six, when he was diagnosed with leukemia. “I didn’t want to die,” said Brennan, explaining why he continued with grueling treatment even after several doctors recommended hospice care. Brennan was shown smiling, laughing and golfing (he loves golf and is quite the avid golfer) in the video, a world away from his pictures during cancer treatment.
Like Oprah would, I had a very “ugly cry” that night with this tear-jerker. With no tissues in sight, I nearly cried myself to sleep, wiping my tears on my blankets and pillow. I’m even tearing up as I write this column now.
When I thought about writing this column, I was concerned about it being a Jerry Lewis-style plea to donate to charity. I do not want to lecture my readers on how to spend their money. But I wanted to bring attention to a phrase that has caught my eye at the bottom of The New York Times over several years: “Don’t forget the neediest.”
I want a lot of things in my life, especially with the holiday season upon us. I want a Northwestern zip-up (please Mom and Dad?), an A on my economics final, a summer internship in Chicago, a great set of pictures at formal and Northwestern to win its first bowl game since 1949. But I only need a few things in my life. I need my health, the love of my family, the support of my friends, water, shelter and food.
NU has truly shaped my views on my wants and needs. I participated in Dance Marathon last year, and I complained the whole way through it. I constantly texted my parents a list of “wants” – I wanted food, sleep, a shower and for someone to play the music I wanted to hear. However, as the children and families of the B+ Foundation, which works to support childhood cancer patients, attested, I had satisfied all of my needs. These families were shaken up by the health of their children and in need of money for everything that chemotherapy required of them – extra gas, food, hospital bills, etc.
This quarter I completed a partner project for my Introduction to Global Health class on healthy food access in Evanston. We interviewed a local soup kitchen patron who explained his hopeless unemployment status and constant search for meals. At Northwestern I am often dissatisfied with the options that my sorority meal plan offers (too much salad), but I should really be thankful for the fact that I have hot meals to look forward to every day with absolute certainty.
Every year during the holiday season, The New York Times begins to publish the phrase “Don’t Forget the Neediest” at the bottom of select articles. This holiday season, I am going to take a cue from St. Jude’s and “give thanks” that my own needs are fully met. I will take from my experiences at Northwestern and remember Brennan and the B+ kids and be grateful for my own incredible life.