I don’t care about the contest.
I don’t really know much about the charity.
But I’ve got skin in the game, and I want to be all in.
It’s a promotion put on by an ad agency, somewhere between clever and manipulative, that seeks to get Rochester area media companies to compete against one another to raise money for the local chapter of the American Heart Association. By making the companies compete – and thereby demonstrate their capabilities to the ad agency – the heart association gets lots and lots of free plugs, and a lot of pressure is created to raise money.
I don’t go in for that.
I almost never do fundraising, I almost never endorse non-profits. It’s not in my nature, and I don’t feel comfortable doing it. I’m also not the sort to buy into competitions over stuff like this.
Beyond that, I’m not even sure what the heart association does, and I’ve read the web page a few times.
None of that is very promising.
And yet, this week, between now and the close of business Friday, I’d like to raise $5,000 for the Rochester chapter of the American Heart Association. More specifically, I’d like readers of this column and listeners of the WHAM midday talk show to donate $5,000.
By which I mean, I’d like you to give money.
Because of a Saturday morning almost 50 years ago.
I was 10 and my mother and step-father had, after years of struggle, just begun to get their feet under them. They had each gotten their GEDs, they had each taken vocational training, they had together taken the first steps into the middle-class. She typed mailing labels for a magazine at the kitchen table after we kids went to bed, and each morning he went off to an electronics-assembly job, instead of cooking and washing dishes at a diner. They had joined a church and though the apartment had just four rooms, we’d lived in it for almost a year and broken the string of evictions for lack of payment that had been our norm.
It was a Saturday morning and we were at the table, my mother and three siblings and myself, with fried eggs and toast and bacon done right, a weekly feast he made, as much about family as food. There was a happy buzz, of conversation and laughter, and a comfortable peace of place, and I sat across from him.
When he lurched over forward and right, his fall slowed as he slid against the table and turned dropping silent to the floor.
My mother shouted, “Carl?” and I instantly sprang to my feet and out through the door.
We were in the first apartment on the first floor and in the third apartment in the second floor there lived a nurse and her husband. A lady who wore white to work and a funny little cap in her hair. I pounded on her door and her husband answered. “My Daddy is really sick and he needs help,” I sobbed. The husband muttered something and closed the door and I pounded again. “My Daddy is really sick and he needs help.”
I remember her pushing past him and past me and running down the stairs to our apartment.
I weep as I write these words, because downstairs so much was dying. On that pivot point swung the lives of my mother and my siblings, and of that good man who loved me like his own.
Neighbors came and one of them took me and my siblings to their apartment while the nurse lady hurled her clenched fist again and again against the center of the unconscious man’s chest and my mother, kneeling beside his head, cried over and over, “I love you, honey. I love you, honey,” through her tears.
For several hours we were upstairs in the neighbors’ apartment, the little kids watching television and playing with toys, as I begged and pleaded with God to make everything OK. When my mother ultimately came through the door, she was with people from church, and she was numb and stunned, and I asked immediately about Daddy.
“He is with Jesus,” she said, in the softest, most vacant voice I’ve ever heard.
In her hand she had an envelope that contained his wristwatch, the crystal cracked from where she had stepped on it to stop its hands after the emergency room nurse slipped it from his wrist to hand to her.
She was 29 and a widow. And her life would never know peace again.
To this day, my siblings still live lives dramatically overshadowed for the negative by that Saturday morning.
It was a myocardial infarction, a phrase that has echoed for horror through my mind since. He had a heart attack, his first and last. The switch flipped, and that was all she wrote.
I have buried many over the years, but never taken a hit like that one.
Nor have I feared anything more than a Saturday morning of my own. Not that I would die, but that I would leave others alone. That my children would have their lives so altered.
It is the nightmare of my existence. I pray every day that God will let me live long enough to raise my children and set them on their own way. I want that for myself, and I want that for others.
That’s why I run every day, and have for 40 years. That’s why I encourage exercise and weight control and a vigorous lifestyle. That’s why I in private will sometimes challenge people on their fitness and encourage them to do better.
Because I have been at the table.
The American Heart Association has the same perspective and the same objective. Through exercise and knowledge, through research and treatment, it wants to keep beating hearts beating. It wants to stave off premature death and the heartbreak it causes.
It wants you to live, it doesn’t want your family to sorrow.
And to help it, I’d like you to donate. I’m sorry for asking, and I don’t give a damn about the contest. But I do care about you. And these people can help us all.
Please go now to www.wham1180.com. You will see something about “walk, run, donate” and see the logo of the American Heart Association. Click on that. Scroll down to where you see the WHAM 1180 box, with my picture. That will take you to a list of names of people who work at the radio station. Please click the DONATE box next to the name Barry Vee, one of my coworkers. And please donate.
I’d like to raise $5,000 on that Barry Vee account. I don’t know if anybody will give anything. I hate begging money and I’m no good at it. But I would be very grateful if you could donate, and if your company has an account for community service or philanthropy, I hope you would consider donating significantly here. Maybe we’ll get nowhere near my goal, maybe we’ll exceed it many times over.
I don’t care about the contest, I’m uncomfortable with the whole thing.
But if the heart association can do anything to help one family avoid a Saturday morning like the one my family went through, I’ll be grateful, and grateful to you for your support of it.
Please donate now.