This is Diane’s view of her 18-year-old son, Nate. And, no – the emotional wall around him is not typical late-teen angst.
It’s the result of living with a neurological condition that endangers not just his life, but the very root of his life experiences: his memory.
While some of Nate’s memories are too difficult for many of us to truly understand, there are also many positive moments too precious for him to contemplate losing. The very thought of his medical condition erasing them weighs on him every day.
Then, something happened that gave Nate a break from that burden.
“It is a gift to Nate that is just beyond anything I could have ever hoped for him!”
Really, if you picture a “wish kid” in your head, Nate probably isn’t one of the Top 10 images in your mental Google Images search. Probably not even Top 100.
Nate might not personify the typical profile of a wish kid, and yet he’s the quintessential wish kid: He wished from his heart, and he embodies the diversity of all the kids who have ever had a Make-A-Wish experience.
Make-A-Wish volunteers have granted some unexpected wishes that make people say “how in the world did they pull that off?” They connect wish kids with celebrities every single week. But Nate requested to meet someone who had never before granted a wish. And calling him a “celebrity” seems to miss the mark. What else could you call an icon who’s a Nietzsche-quoting hardcore punk pioneer, spoken-word poet, writer, actor and more?
I guess you call him “Henry Rollins.”
“I could sit for hours and tell you stories ... it was just such a fantastic release from the daily struggles and heaviness.”
Music is a huge influence in Nate’s life. Something about Henry Rollins’ work speaks to him. From the early sounds of Black Flag to the more recent spoken-word storytelling, Nate has found meaning in Henry’s art in every form it takes.
Diane wrote a letter to tell us about Nate’s visit with Henry and the days surrounding it. Everyone who knew that Nate was a wish kid wanted to be part of the experience. The airline pilots invited him to the flight deck. He went behind the scenes during tours. A music store rolled out the red carpet for him.
And then there was talking to Henry. He first connected with Nate through their shared loved of music. Then he spun a tale related to every topic that sparked Nate’s interest, from an epic journey to show up for a gig to bringing a suitcase full of vinyl records from Australia.
Every part of the journey is preserved on Diane’s camera, ready to be turned into home movies and scrapbooks. What mattered most to Diane wasn’t just all the people, places and activities: It was Nate’s uncharacteristic response to it all … smile after smile.
“That day I saw the hugest smiles on his face that I haven't seen in years ... it was such a beautiful gift to me.”
Diane found her emotions lifted along with Nate’s. After all the helplessness of being a parent watching a son struggle every day, she finally watched him stand taller. She witnessed him living through his vision of life at its best. And now, there’s a challenge she is determined to face with Nate – protecting the memories of his wish from the encroachment of his illness.
“He told me at the hotel that he wanted me to tell the stories and let him retell them so he doesn't forget them. He is keenly aware of his very rapidly fading memory ... and his greatest fear now is to forget the details of his trip,” Diane wrote. “I'm going to make him a very detailed scrapbook for him and put tons of the big and small details so he'll always remember!”
The emotional lift Nate experienced is why we grant wishes. Ask a healthcare professional, and you’ll hear that a kid with more optimism and hope is a better patient. They’re better at sticking with their treatments. They’re more likely to find a reason to stay strong. They can deal better with the emotional side effects of their illness.
“It’s given Nate a real lifeline to hold onto as he struggles with depression and trying to cope with his medical issues and all that comes with it,” Diane wrote.
Before Make-A-Wish volunteers connected with Nate, meeting Henry Rollins was simply not in his realm of reality. One aspect of his life has shifted from “that’s impossible” to “that really happened.” And that’s what a wish can do for a kid like Nate. We hope that surge of confidence continues, and that every wish kid then wonders what else in their life is truly possible … starting with being able to live with or even overcome their illness.