For the Love of a Child

For the Love of a Child

From A 3rd Serving of Chicken Soup for the Soul

For the Love of a Child

Seventeen-year-old Mike Emme drove a ‘67 Ford Mustang. It had sat neglected in a Colorado field undriven for over seven years before he bought it, rebuilt it and painted it bright yellow. A gifted student, Mike was a happy, helpful young man with a future as bright and cheerful as his car. Friends called him “Mustang Mike.”

“I wish I could have learned how to hate,” the note read. “Don’t blame yourselves. Mom and Dad, I love you. Remember, I’ll always be with you.” It was signed, “Love, Mike 11:45.”

Mike’s summer love had been terminated abruptly by his girlfriend’s engagement to someone else on August 23. On September 8, in a move that stunned all who knew him, Mike slipped into the front seat of his bright yellow Mustang, closed the door and shot himself.

At 11:52 his parents, Dar and Dale Emme, and his brother, Victor, pulled into their driveway behind Mike’s bright yellow Mustang—seven minutes too late.

By noon the next day, teenagers started arriving at the Emme home wearing T-shirts bearing the words “IN MEMORY OF MIKE EMME” imprinted above a bright yellow Mustang. (They had been created by Mike’s best friend, Jarrod, and Jarrod’s mom.)

A stream of stories that went on for days began emerging. Most were news to Mike’s family. Some went clear back to grade school times, when he had shared his lunch with a less fortunate child or contributed his lunch money to some fund drive.

A stranger phoned to share how her car had broken down late one night, leaving her and her two small children stranded on a dark road. Mike had stopped, shown her his driver’s license to assure her he would not harm them, got her car started, and followed them home to be sure they arrived safely.

A classmate from a single-parent family revealed that Mike had canceled his order for a brand-new, completely built Mustang transmission, which he had saved up for to put in his own car, and bought two used ones from the salvage yard instead so that this classmate could get his car running too.

Next came a young girl who disclosed that had it not been for Mike, she would not have been able to go to the Homecoming dance. When Mike heard that she did not have the money to buy an evening dress, he paid for a very nice dress that she had found in a used-clothing store.

When Mike was 14, his niece was born severely handicapped. Mike learned how to remove the tracheotomy tube from her throat, should an emergency arise, and replace it with a new one; how to perform CPR on her; and how to use sign language to sign songs with her because the tracheotomy tube, without which she would die, prevented her from talking. Their favorite song to sign has a chorus that says, “God is watching us from a distance . . .” It seemed like Mike was always there to give happiness, a hand or a hug.

Teenagers gathered at the Emme home to comfort the family and each other. They discussed the tragedy of teen suicide and the fact that the highest number of teen suicides are gifted (high I.Q.) children. They learned that suicide is the sixth most common cause of death of children ages 5 to 14 and the third most common in those ages 15 to 24. They discovered that each year suicide takes the life of over 7,000 children between the ages of 10 and 19, and that it is now becoming epidemic even in our elementary schools. Someone mentioned a study that compared adolescents who committed suicide but who had no apparent mental disorders with kids of the same age who did not commit suicide. It found only one difference— a loaded gun in the house.

As they explored what they themselves might be able to do to prevent this type of tragedy, someone looked up, saw a bright yellow Mustang on one of the T-shirts, and the Yellow Ribbon Project was born. Linda Bowles, a family friend, brought over a large roll of yellow ribbon and printed up little business-card-size papers containing instructions on how to use the ribbons. They read:

“YELLOW RIBBON PROJECT”
In loving memory of Michael Emme

THISRIBBONISA LIFELINE:It carriesthe message
that there are those who care and will help. If you
(or anyone else) are in need and don’t know how to
ask for help, take this, or any yellow ribbon or
card,to acounselor,teacher,priest,rabbi,minister,
parent, or friend and say:

“I’D LIKE TO USE MY YELLOW RIBBON.”

Sitting on the Emmes’ living room floor, Mike’s friends shared their stories, their grief and their tears as they mourned the loss of their friend by pinning a piece of yellow ribbon on each instruction card.

Five hundred of these yellow ribbons were placed in a basket set out at Mike’s memorial service. By the end of the service, the basket was empty, and 500 little yellow ribbons, complete with instruction cards, had begun their mission of saving other children from suicide. In just its first few weeks, the Yellow Ribbon Project prevented three teen suicides that we know of, and was soon introduced in all of Colorado’s high schools. It has been growing ever since.

Because of the internal nature of depression, loneliness and fear, thousands of our very fine children—who appear to be perfectly happy—are screaming silently in the deepest of emotional pain. What can we do?

Free ribbons and suggestions are available at The Yellow Ribbon Project, P.O. Box 644, Westminster, CO 80030, or call (303) 4293530.

Thea Alexander

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