The entire time I knew Brad he had a smile on his face, a twinkle in his eye, and something to say that was both wise and funny.
As a teacher, your life is full of all kinds of people—big people, little people, smart people, not-so-smart people, happy and sad people, mean and ugly people, delightful and loving people, and, if you’re lucky, at least one person who changes the way you think about the world and all its possibilities. For me, that individual was little person-big guy Brad Clark.
Seventeen years ago, I had Brad in my eighth-grade language arts class and in his own fun and clever style he managed to not only teach me in a big way about all that is possible, but taught me how small and insignificant my problems were as I watched him overcome adversity in the face of unbelievable odds.
Brad’s mom Jenny once shared with me that when she was pregnant with her son, the prognosis for her unborn baby was dismal, but once he was born, she and her husband resolved to do everything possible to make sure this baby of theirs lived as full a life as possible for however long he lived on this earth. Being Brad, he didn’t disappoint.
He was definitely born to the right parents.
Thirteen years later, I was privileged to have Brad as a student, and I quickly learned that he had more to teach me about the possibilities of living with a disability than I had to teach him about diagramming sentences or looking for context clues. Jenny worked alongside me in another class of eighth-graders as a special education assistant (helping students with cognitive exceptionalities) so we became good friends. Through her, I learned about the struggles Brad encountered during the early years of his life.
All of this made me wonder why the little person in the black scooter who motored himself into my room every morning during fifth period always had a big, goofy smile on his face, was always joking with one of his classmates, and had a wickedly hilarious sense of humor. How could someone who had suffered through more surgeries than I can count and someone who was unable to run, jump, and horse around like the other kids be so happy all the time?
In the spring of that same year, Brad had another major surgery that forced him to travel out of state because there was only one doctor on the planet who could perform that particular procedure. Afterward, back home and encased in a neck to ankle body cast, Brad was confined to a hospital bed. It was then that I had the opportunity, along with my husband, to provide homebound instruction that would get him through the remaining months of his eighth grade year. We called it “tag-team tutoring”—we took turns coaching Brad through language arts and social studies; science and algebra.
Those sessions were hard for us, not because Brad was a difficult student who was recovering from a miserable, painful and confining surgery—it was difficult because Brad kept us in stitches most of the time. Really, how could we possibly resist his charms? He was the precocious kid who had the ability to get the teacher to wander off topic but made it so much fun that getting back on topic seemed a bit draconian given the circumstances. After all, we both realized that he was smart enough to master the academics, so why not allow him to bring a bit of levity to our sessions?
That’s right: Brad was the one driving the bus to fun-town.
The entire time I knew Brad he had a smile on his face, something clever yet funny to say, and a twinkle in his eye that always led me to believe he knew much more about everything than an eighth-grader had a right to know.
My heart was broken yesterday to learn that my Brad, now a grown man, had passed from this life to the next. My broken heart is for his parents, Jenny and Ron, who dedicated their lives to making Brad’s as full and complete as possible without allowing him to wallow in self-pity, even though his circumstances were often heartbreaking to witness. Their expectations along with their hopes and dreams for Brad, both academically and socially, were just the same as any parents would be with a fully able young man, and I often marveled at their ability to set such high standards. At the same time I was overwhelmed that Brad often surpassed his parents’ expectations. He certainly surpassed mine.
Brad, I close my eyes today and imagine you standing straight and tall, in a body unfettered by pain and able to reach new heights. I see you doing all the things young boys do in their youth, in their adolescence, and in their adulthood without every movement bringing you pain and agony and the frustration of always having to be three times the man you were here on Earth just to live a full life.
You’re home now, Brad. Relax. Stretch out that amazingly strong body of yours and rest in the knowledge that your remarkable and wonderful spirit has made such a lasting and positive impact on everyone who was blessed to have known you.