Clark was a cool kid. He had a bald head, brown eyes, and a nice smile. Clark was not his real name. But they said he liked Superman. So “Clark Kent” it is.
Before Clark lost his hair, he had a head of blue-black, just like the superhero.
When his parents found out he was sick, it nearly knocked the life out of them. But they say Clark didn’t get bothered by it. Nobody knows why. Maybe he was too young to be afraid.
Maybe he was made of steel.
Anyway, I don’t know much about pediatric oncology, but his diagnosis was bad. His mother called it a “death sentence.” His doctors were not hopeful.
But that’s not the story here.
One afternoon, on their way home from a medical appointment Clark saw a man walking the shoulder of the highway. He was near an overpass.
The man was dark-skinned, with white hair, holding the waist of his blue jeans to keep them from falling.
“Stop Mom!” said Clark.
His mother stopped the car. Clark rolled the window down and asked the man why he was holding his pants like that.
“Lost my belt,” the man said. “And these pants are too big.”
Then, the man asked Clark’s mother for money. That’s where she drew the line. She refused to give cash to a stranger. She rolled up the windows and drove.
“We can’t just leave him,” said Clark. “He needs our help.”
Clark begged his mother to give money. Her only response was “no.”
Her son finally convinced her to stop at Walmart. They bought a belt, some sweatpants, and a few T-shirts. Then, they bought a sandwich from Subway.
They found the man beneath the overpass again. Clark gave him a plastic bag full of goodies. The man was overcome.
So days turned into months. Clark was weak from treatment. He spent entire weeks in bed. He sat on the floor near the toilet a lot.
He didn’t feel like playing games on his phone. He didn’t feel like eating food. His skin got so pale it was almost translucent. He couldn’t do anything that involved much walking.
But Clark managed to do other things.
For example: he placed a large cardboard box at the entryway of his school last Christmas.
Clark sent an email asking his friends to donate toys to foster kids. I understand the school filled four boxes that Christmas.
In Clark’s spare time, he also colored pictures for patients in the oncology ward.
He would meet people, get to know them, then he’d draw special pictures. Pictures with inspiring phrases on the bottoms.
Phrases like: “You got this!” And: “You are going to win!” And: “You are stronger than you even know!”
Once, Clark was visiting with a woman who was receiving treatment in the recliner next to his. When Clark’s mother returned from a bathroom break, Clark was holding the woman’s hand. The older woman was crying.
Anyway, last year Clark fell asleep. His life was eleven years long, but it was over a hundred years wide.
It’s because of him that local foster kids had a few extra Christmas toys. It’s because of him that a handful oncology patients have colored pictures on their refrigerators. It’s because of him that you are reading this.
Clark’s mother was in traffic the other day. She saw a familiar man with dark skin and white hair. He was wearing sweatpants.
She went to the nearest bank ATM and withdrew three hundred dollars. She gave it to the man. Three hundred was all the machine would let her get. Otherwise, she would’ve given him more. In fact, she does this sort of thing a lot now.
Because Clark would’ve wanted it that way. Only, he’s not Clark anymore.