I met two remarkable people this week. Two remarkable seventeen-year-olds, actually. Two remarkable seventeen-year-old boys. In fact, I think I met them both on the same day. Yes, I am sure it was on the same day.
One, let’s call him Allan, I met in the morning. I was at work, and he was my last student of the morning. I had never worked with him before, so I introduced myself and tried to initiate our hour-long lesson. I held up a card with a word on it for him to read, and he interrupted me, “before we get started, let me just explain that since the tumor I only have about an 85 degree range of vision.”
“Ah, yes, I replied,” remembering a staff briefing from about a week earlier, “tell me about that.”
“Well, ever since they removed my brain tumor, I can only see things from here to here,” he said, showing me with his hands, “so, when you hold the card, if you could put it almost directly in front of me, that would be great.”
Yes, he’s seventeen.
During our fifty-five minutes together, he joked with me, showed me CAT scan images of ‘before’ and ‘after’ and, remarkably, read, imaged, and spelled many, many words. it was his seventeenth birthday that day and he was looking forward to spending the rest of his day with his best friend and his family. His love for them oozed out of his pores. When we finished, he said, “Thank you.”
I met the second remarkable seventeen-year-old boy that same day in the afternoon at a local library. It was our first ACT Test prep session. He found me in a little study room just as I was noticing a voicemail from his father. He sat down across from me as I listened to the message that told me that this young man, let’s call him Robert, has a life-threatening liver disease and is on the transplant list. He sometimes gets tired, his dad told me, so I should push him, but be aware that he may not have the stamina of a ‘normal’ seventeen year old. I should give him homework, but I should know in advance that if he doesn’t do it, it’s not because he is apathetic, but because he gets worn out.
I ended the call and looked across the table at Robert who was sheepishly rolling his eyes. “Will you tell me if you get tired?”
“Yes, but I’ll be fine.”
“Ok, let’s get started.” For an hour we worked through ACT English test questions. I told him my best strategies and my hottest tips. He took detailed notes, asked questions, and leaned in with me for the whole session. He shared with me that before last March he was a typical healthy teenager. Then, suddenly, he was hospitalized for a week, treated with medication, and put on a liver transplant list. This was not even six months ago! And yet he’s sitting with me, preparing for the September ACT, applying to Michigan State University, and planning for his future. When we finished, I gave him an assignment to do before I see him next week. He wrote it down, asked some clarifying questions, then said, “Thank you, this helps a lot.”
Two seventeen-year-old boys, who have each learned the frailty of life at a very young age, spent an hour with me one day this week. They followed my directions, they shared their stories, they smiled and laughed with me, then they thanked me. And here I am four days later thinking about them. They think I helped them, but really they inspired me.
If these two boys, who each know what it feels like to endure a life-threatening illness, can embody hope and resilience, then surely I, who have seen many more years of life and much-less dramatic illness, can, too. These boys weren’t wringing their hands and crying, “Woe is me!” No, they were acknowledging the reality of their circumstances and arming themselves for what lies ahead. Surely they have great parents, but certainly they are remarkable young men.
I Timothy 4:12
Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.