60 Minutes had a story on Sunday about the Make-a-Wish Foundation. I was glad to see it because we had a Make-a-Wish kid when I was working on the Naked Gun 33-1/3 movie, and it was one of the most wonderful, memorable experiences of my life.
The kid was about 12-years-old, and he was there with his parents and younger sister, and a Make-a-Wish host, a lovely woman. The family was from England, and the Naked Gun movies were the boy's favorites, and when he heard that they were making a third film in the series, he wanted to visit the set. So, Make-a-Wish flew them all out.
(Sorry, I wish I remember the kid and family's name, and the host but it's been over 20 years. I think he was Peter, and she Anne, but honestly at this point... While I can't swear that's accurate,for our purposes here, that's what we'll go with.)
We were filming at the Shrine Auditorium for the academy awards sequence. They all showed up around 10 in the morning, and (as this was during my publicist days, and I was the film's unit publicist) I acted as sort of guide, and after an initial greeting to those in charge, took them onto the stage where the producer made an introduction to everyone. The cast and crew were all polite, though there was clearly a little reticence, not quite being sure how to act with a child who, no matter how bright-eyed and enthusiastic he looked, they knew was perhaps, if not probably terminal. It wasn't until one of the other producers, a particularly sardonic, biting guy made some outlandish comment that the ice was broken. I forget exactly what he said, but it was along the lines of, "So, you're the sick kid? You do realize you're screwing up our schedule." For a moment there was a pause, almost a stunned silence ("Oh, dear Lord, what did you say this time??"), and then Peter -- who more than anyone was used to always being treated with the gentlest gloves -- burst out into laughter, and so did the producer, and then in pure relief so did the entire company. And it was all a joy after that. Everyone treated him like almost one of the team, and he had access to everything and went everywhere.
(A particular memory stands out. One of the people with the company was, in fact, a little reticent to meet Peter, but for a particular, specific reason. Being a parent with a young child, it was very emotional, almost too much, they said, seeing another child so sick, and needed a bit more time to adjust, if that was okay. The initial introductions to the full company took place -- but only a few minutes later, as the greetings were winding down, the person came by, as truly and clearly warm as anyone, and by the end may have been among the friendliest of all.)
A few days later, I went over to the Make-a-Wish offices just to say hi and thanks. But the moment I walked in, the two women there (including Anne, the host from the visit) leaped up in excitement, their faces beaming, and I had absolutely no idea why. "Don't you understand???" they asked. Well...no, I didn't. Not a clue.
"When we go to a movie set or some place," Anne said "usually they don't really want us there, they're feeling awkward and uncomfortable the whole time, and we're getting in the way of their work, so we spend about 15 minutes, and then leave. But you all had us there for...TEN HOURS. That never happens. It never happens. Ten hours. And when we finally were going to leave, sure we'd overstayed by so much, they invited us to stick around for dinner! The family was so excited by the whole day. You have no idea. That never happens. When I got back to the office the next day and told everyone how long we were there -- no one believed me."
I just loved their faces. And they weren't the ones getting the wish, just the ones granting it.
The cast and filmmakers and crew really were wonderful. No one was put out by the "intrusion" into their work, everyone was open, welcoming, joking. I was able to take Peter and his entourage everywhere -- sometimes him alone, sometimes others came along behind the scenes, on a tour in the upper reaches of the Shrine, to sit in at the "video village" area with the filmmakers, around the grounds, and just sitting in the auditorium watching. Not to mention lunch and then the barbecue dinner. And of course the company gave them t-shirts, caps, a poster signed by everyone, and other Naked Gun paraphernalia, and lots of photographs. To me, to everyone there, it was just what we figured one was supposed to do. Peter had his wish to visit the set, so then, fine, "Welcome," come visit the set. And the thing is, it was fun having him there. Fun having someone who loved what we were doing so much that it was his WISH to be there. How could we not have done any differently? It was so odd to me what she was saying. But the two women in the Make-a-Wish office wouldn't stop in their enthusiasm and appreciation.
(By the way, as I think about it and read more stories about "Make-A-Wish" tales, I suspect that the reaction to our participation may have been because it took place over 20 years ago somewhat in the early-ish days of the foundation. So, the public wasn't as acclimated to the idea. As time has passed and the organization has grown, I have a feeling that people are much more used to the Wishes, and so fully-involved events are much more common today. Which if so, is a Really Good Thing.)
In the 60 Minutes piece, they spend a bit of time with one of the head volunteers at a local branch. It turns out that she's a former recipient of a wish when she was younger. She mentions that if she could give her wish away to someone else, she would, because the joy, she said, is granting the wish.
We didn't grant the wish, we just made ourselves available for the ones who did. But I know what she meant.
And if you don't believe me, here's the 60 Minutes story. Watch the reaction of the young boy, Kaden Erickson, who the piece features, when he's told he's getting his wish to go to Australia. There's your proof.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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