In the midst of the darkness, volunteers cast a little light

April 27, 2004|By MICHAEL OLESKER

THE MORNING news was awful, so we went to the hospital to cheer ourselves up. The news was all about pre-dawn rocket attacks and suicide car bombs and flag-draped coffins arriving home from Iraq. At the hospital, the story was about reaching for life in the face of tragedy.

It was lovely to see. Out there in the front yard of the Mount Washington Pediatric Hospital, a loudspeaker played the themes from Chariots of Fire and Rocky. All these marchers heard the music as they came tromping up the driveway hill off Northwest Baltimore's Rogers Avenue and finished their annual Walk of Love.

The morning was gray and chilly, but still they came. They had started 3 1/2 miles away, at Pikesville Senior High School, and marched down Greenspring Avenue and up the hilly streets of Mount Washington. There were people in their 70s and elementary school kids. They had immeasurable good cheer. They were connected to the Covenant Guild, the Jewish women's service organization that has raised more than $130,000 for this hospital over the years.

And, for good measure, there were members of the Blue Knights Law Enforcement Motorcycle Club, whose chapter president, John Bull, of the Anne Arundel County police, was saying, "Our guys love coming here. The kids climb all over our bikes. They get a great kick out of it. And, the truth is, we get as much out of it as they do."

So there you have it. On a morning when the war news was awful, we had choices to make. We could lament the sight of those coffins coming home from Iraq, and wonder about the motives of a White House that has fought against anybody seeing them. We could curse that rocket attack that killed two more Americans, and wonder about all those grateful, flower-tossing Iraqis the White House promised before the invasion. We could wring our hands over the suicide car bombs in Basra that killed dozens of people, including 20 children.

Or, for a little while, in the midst of so much dying and destruction, we could embrace the children here who were reaching for hope in the face of their own troubles.

Outside the hospital Sunday, there were kids in wheelchairs. One was a boy named Christopher, who arrived here from Maryland's Eastern Shore. He has cerebral palsy. As his mom tenderly stroked Christopher's hair, a lady in a clown outfit came over and tied a balloon to his chair. Christopher made a noise that might have been happiness.

Nearby were children under blankets to ward off the morning chill. Some were recuperating from surgery. They listened to Royal Parker, who held a microphone and had everybody laughing. Parker, the big-hearted former broadcaster who played the TV clown P.W. Doodle years ago, knows about entertaining children.

In the crowd was Mount Washington Pediatric Vice President Robert Imhoff. "The big hospitals," he said, "send the most fragile children here - babies with lung development issues, children with spinal cord injuries, with neurological disorders.

"Something like this event" - he swept his hand across the gathering - "it raises money for equipment, and it raises community awareness about the work we're doing."

"What it does," said Dr. Anne Bailowitz, chief of the Baltimore Health Department's Child Health and Immunization, "is show that people can literally walk the walk besides talk the talk. It shows they care. And they tell their families, and it spreads from there."

Over the years, the Covenant Guild's fund-raising efforts for the hospital have provided a library of adaptive toys and accessory devices for children with severe physical and learning disabilities. They've financed sophisticated communications equipment. And a wheelchair-lift conversion van. And an electric-powered examination table. And pulse oximeters and digital infant scales. And more.

Asked about their efforts, women in the organization give the same answer: It's for the children. Which, of course, it is. But this kind of effort, across 17 years of these Walks of Love, is a gift they give to themselves, as well.

That's the secret behind all charitable work. We have a choice in life: In the bleakest of times, we can bemoan the darkest truths, or try to do something about them. In a time of international chaos, of car bombs and rocket attacks and flag-draped coffins, we can lament the future of the human race.

Or we can work our little corner of it - like the folks from the Covenant Guild and the Blue Knights Motorcyle Club - and light a few candles while we're cursing the darkness.

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