Homer and the Racing Car

Homer and the Racing Car

From A 6th Bowl of Chicken Soup for the Soul

Homer and the Racing Car

Aclown is like aspirin, only he works twice as fast.

Groucho Marx

During a visit to Stanford Children’s Hospital in Palo Alto, California, I performed a thirty-minute show for the children in a large recreational room. After the show, I walked around visiting children who were not able to leave their rooms to attend the show. Completing this portion of my appearance, I was preparing to leave when a young woman walked up to me and asked if it would be at all possible to have me visit the intensive care ward to visit her six-year-old son. He just loved clowns, but he was dying of cancer—with but a few days to live.

As I walked up to the entrance to the intensive care ward, I was asked to place a protective mask on my face. This of course bothered me because it covered up most of my makeup and would not allow me to use the facial expressions that show a clown’s character. However, I understood and permitted the hospital staff to place the mask on my face. I then proceeded to walk into the intensive care room, along with the now masked mother, to visit the child.

When I walked into the room seven other people stood around the boy. I later found out that one was a doctor, another was a private nurse, two older people were the grandparents, an older boy was a brother, an older girl was a sister and the last gentleman was the father—all wearing masks and filled with deep sadness. The six-year-old boy was lying in bed with tubes hooked up to both arms and into his nose. He was making a soft groaning sound with his eyes closed.

I looked around the room and made eye contact with each and every person in the room and noticed that one gentleman was wearing an identification tag indicating he was a doctor. I looked at him and he nodded his head indicating that I could walk up to the bed and talk to Jimmy. At his bedside, in a quiet voice, I called out his name several times. He moved his head from side to side but would not open his eyes and continued making the very low groaning sound. I then took him by his right hand and said, “Hello, Jimmy. My name is Homer the Clown, and I came here to see you because I heard you really liked clowns.” His eyes opened immediately and he lay there for a few seconds in total amazement looking at me and not making a sound. I continued talking to him, telling him that I had heard he was in this room and I just had to stop by to say hello.

At that point, he started to smile and very quietly said, “Hi, Homer. I remember you.” The second he spoke those words, there was a gasp from several of the people in the room and when I turned to look at them, I noticed tears filling their eyes. I turned back to Jimmy and he quietly continued telling me that he had attended a show in which I was the performer and wondered if I remembered him. I, of course, informed him that I did remember him and that I was very pleased that we had a chance to meet again. This made him extremely happy, and he looked at his parents and said, “Dad, Mom, Homer remembers me.” It was at that point that I had to really get hold of my emotions because I could not allow myself to let Jimmy see the tremendous sadness I felt as a lump rose in my throat.

I quickly reached into a bag that I had with me and presented him with a small gift. All my gifts were wrapped up so children in the hospital would have the fun of unwrapping them. Then I realized that it would be impossible for him to open it with all the tubes that were hooked up to his hands and arms. So I slowly took his right hand in mine and pretended that I was helping him open the present. During the entire time we unwrapped the present, I continued talking to Jimmy, telling him what a great job he was doing unwrapping the little package. He was all smiles. The present was a racing car, and he was full of joy when he saw it. I asked him if he would allow me to come over to his home when he got out, and we could play with it together. His response was, “You bet!”

At that point I felt it was time to leave, even though I had only been there about ten minutes. I had accomplished my mission, and I did not want to overstay my visit. I gave Jimmy a light hug and told him I would be back to see him in a few days. He said that would be okay, and he would be waiting for me. I then shook the hand of everyone in the room and received hugs from the grandparents and also from the two older children.

The parents followed me outside and then the most emotional part of the visit transpired. We all cried and hugged each other and very few words were spoken. There did not need to be as we all knew what had happened. However, it was during those happy but difficult moments in the hallway that I found out Jimmy had not spoken for the past three days, and when he said, “Hi, Homer,” everyone in the room gasped with amazement. I thanked the parents for asking me to share these moments with them, shed a few more tears and prepared to return to my home. Fortunately Dee, my wife, had assisted me with the evening’s program, or I would have had to drive home myself.

The next morning, when I awoke from a seemingly sleepless night, I felt tired but extremely blessed that I had been able to give Jimmy a little happiness. Later that day, I received a phone call from Jimmy’s father informing me that they couldn’t thank me enough for what I had done the evening before, because Jimmy had died that very next morning—still holding the small racing car in his hands. He also informed me that the family had decided that Jimmy was going to be buried with the racing car in his hands.

As a clown, I believe I am here not to understand why a young boy dies, but to make a smile appear on a face. I am here to try to make youngsters like this have a little less pain. We laugh, we cry, we share and we also make promises like the one I made with Jimmy. One day Jimmy and I will meet again, and we will play together with that toy racing car that we once shared.

Don Burda
Submitted by Joel Goodman, coauthor of Chicken Soup for the Laughing Soul

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