Every day, they run the gauntlet, the lights, the odds… They run into burning buildings, run to the bodies in pain, run to the hospitals. These people who fight fires and treat sick… they are the brave and the heroes and the servants who lay it all out there so that we can be safe.
And now, imagine if you can, all those heroes, in their uniforms with the bright yellow stripes and the heavy hats, in their shiny dress uniforms with the gleaming badges, in the dark blue covering bullet vests with holstered guns… Imagine them, lining the sides of a walkway, stretched as far as you can can see, down on one knee, clapping and cheering for… Chase. …for the bald boy walking next to Chase. …for the beautiful girl who’s cerebral palsy keeps her bound to a wheel chair. …for these and so many more, the heroes knelt in salute. Welcome to our Saturday…
Early in the Fall and life at our new little house, I received a call from Chase’s hospital asking if he’d like to participate in this special Christmas celebration: Operation North Pole. Chase loves The Polar Express. Another dream wish… I might have cried. …yet another experience I wish you all could have had with us!
Being ushered in to parking by firemen in uniform and walking forward to parked police cars, trucks, and ambulances – all available for the children to enjoy.
The police officer who’s voice spoke love as he explained that he volunteered this year because his nephew, struggling with a life-threatening illness, had been a recipient last year.
Bill and Laura, our breakfast table helpers
Watching the strong, brave firemen humbly circle breakfast tables and wait on families with gentle deference.
Having Ronald McDonald circle past and ask Chase (into a mic) what he wanted for Christmas and hearing: “A dog”. A what?!
Fireman Bill and Chase
Having a volunteer announce that there was a little boy with them today that had just turned five and watching Bill, the well-over-six-foot fireman hoist Chase high onto his shoulders while the room cheered in a celebration of life.
The line of 8 shiny, new school buses to take us to the train station.
The sight of firemen helping secure wheelchairs into buses and make sure all were comfortable and safe.
Pulling out of the convention center in a caravan of buses and seeing police cars and fire trucks alongside, in front, and behind us…like a presidential motorcade.
Turning the corner and out the bus window, seeing police cars blocking all traffic in the intersection and waiving to us on the bus – like we were ever so important.
Fighting tears to experience going through red lights with a police escort at a time we weren’t beating time itself to the hospital.
Pulling into the train station to cheering crowds and ever so many more fire trucks and emergency vehicles.
Watching for the train…
Lining the platform and cheering as the “North Pole Express” pulled in and towered over us with a whoosh and hiss.
Trying to see it all through my Karsten’s eyes – eyes that have never been on a train before because most of his short three years have been his older brother’s treatment.
The train cars filling with musicians, clowns and puppies, Christmas helpers and games, snacks and laughter as we sped along.
The compassionate eyes of the police officer as he knelt in his uniform, crouched by the bench where my three year old sat, listening as if he had all the time in the world and then placed smile-face stickers into Karsten’s chubby, sticky hands.
Uttering the only thing crazier than “We don’t wrestle in front of Ryan Seacrest!” when I had to say the words: “Son! We never, ever, ever tackle police officers! Ever!” …and seeing the kind and compassionate pat on the head of the smiling servant who understood small boys and their energy.
Because reindeer noses are for…?
Hearing that the conductor was coming and watching a Hanks-esque man with pocket watch and lantern pull golden tickets from his pocket and punch stars into messages in front of tiny wide eyes.
Looking down at my golden ticket and seeing the word “HOPE” star-punched special.
Reaching the farthest point and watching more firemen and children board the train with bags of goodies and snacks for all.
Slowing at every station and town on the way back down the line and seeing people lining the platform and cheering for us as the engineer blew “Jingle Bells” on the engine horn and the children’s signs said: “North Pole – this way!”
Seeing that the children weren’t alone as they cheered in the stations and at every station and crossing, firemen and fire trucks lined up, holding signs and cheering. And how I wish that I could share with you the picture of a ladder truck with 6 firemen standing uniformed atop it, waving to the children in the train windows and holding signs that said: “You’re going to the North Pole!“
Pulling back into the station and re-meeting our shiny buses and brave escorts for the ride back and pulling near to the building to see a Santa Clause waving the buses in and hear the gasps of children on the bus as they spied the red suit.
Going up the long escalator into the gauntlet line of cheering heroes on their knees for my brave baby boy and his brave siblings. Seeing the kindness in their eyes as they “high five’d” and clapped and called them all by name.
Walking through a sea of ice-blue tee shirted volunteers who cheered us on as we walked into the room they’d given time and endless effort to create.
Giving Olaf warm hugs
Watching Chase throw his head back in joyful awe on the dance floor as an ice-costumed, real-life Elsa sang “Let It Go” and snow started falling from the ceiling.
Walking all four children through a life-size candy land and hearing a fireman volunteer tell me that if there was anything I needed to let him know – and to make sure the kids got enough candy because there had been thousands and thousands of pounds donated for kids like my babies.
The look on Karsten’s face as he turned from the dream of stuffing a bag full of every candy imaginable to see a miniature pony being led over to him.
Darcy’s eyes widen when Kelly, the darling volunteer who stayed by our side all day, told her that there was a beauty salon for little girls in the “North Pole”.
The sight of all my children dancing and doing crazy things we only ever dream about or see in Christmas movies.
The arm of the fire chief on my shoulder as his voice softened and he said, “It’s our great pleasure to do this.”
Having escorts from the building – carrying all our bags and seeing to our needs – and getting to the garage only to discover that the giving wasn’t over and they had more presents for all the kids. An above and beyond kindness.
Saying goodbye to tall, brave Bill – the fireman who’d stayed by us since breakfast – as he put his hand on Chase’s head and wished him good health and we drove away so special and blessed.
And the heroes, they waved as we passed out of their sight. Every day they run the gauntlet and the lights and the odds…and on this Saturday, as they’ve done four years prior and plan to do for decades still, they kneel to serve the ones like Chase and name them among their own with highest honor.
The strong humble and serve.
We are blessed.
Moment by moment.
This post is dedicated to all the public servants and volunteers who worked so hard to make Operation North Pole a breath-taking reality for those like Chase. Your bravery is evident every day and your beautiful servant hearts for our families will never be forgotten. Thank you.