A column about history, culture, policy, and things in between.
Our daughter Lauren earned her way through Middle and High School with a variety of baby-sitting gigs. Aside from the admittedly important earnings, her greatest reward was the privilege of meeting some terrific families and kids, some of whom she maintains contact with from college. One of those Brookfield families is the Conlons, and it was a fortunate day in our lives when, many years ago, they called seeking Lauren's services.
Eric and Helen Conlon are the salt of the earth; the kind of people we all want for neightbors, friends and community members. The parents and students of Swanson Elementary School are blessed to have Helen on its staff. Their lovely daughters Catie and Maggie are two girls so sincerely and unaffectedly sweet, that every time I spend more than five minutes in their combined presence, I feel the need for a counter-acting dose of insulin.
But there is more to this story than their beautiful smiles and pound-sterling character; stories forged on the anvil of heartache. Just a few weeks after her birth, Helen and Eric were overwhelmed by the dawning realization that, "there is something wrong with Maggie". And soon the crushing blow fell - the "C" word. Their beloved baby daughter - bone of their bone and flesh of their flesh - was diagnosed with an extremely rare form of cancer, rhabdomyo sarcoma. I will not dishonor their ordeal, nor the ordeal of other parents who face such trauma, by trying to imagine or describe it. Suffice it to say there were years of treatment, worry, and exhaustion; years of learning to walk with the Sword of Damacles poised above their heads.
They walked into and through that valley with a resolute and intrepid calm that can only be regarded for what it was: the consciously taken decision to lead each other and BOTH of their daughters through that particular, and very personal hell. Today the joyful report is "all is well", and this darling girl is now a thriving 5th Grader at Brookfield Elementary School; while her big sister is an 8th Grader at Wisconsin Hills.
The road traveled by the Conlons led to their involvement in The MACC Fund, and this year Maggie was chosen to design the 2012 MACC Star Christmas Ornament. The ornament she designed became more than just a beautiful expression; it became a beacon, a Christmas Star that drew one of the NFL's biggest stars to Brookfield. Aaron Rodgers does a lot of work on behalf of The Macc Fund; and like a green and gold receiver streaking through the seam of a Cover Two defense, the light that dwells within Maggie, projected through her ornament, drew the penetrating gaze of the quarterback. Some weeks ago he spent a golden October morning at their home, learning of Maggie's story, and spending time with that wonderful family. A brief video of Roders' visit with the Conlons can be viewed by clicking on the URL at the bottom of this column. How great is it that he would do that? And how powerful is the light dwelling within Maggie that its inexorable pull would lead him there? We can all consider that question in the quiet of our own reflections.
Winston Churchill told us long ago that, "all great things are simple. And many can be expressed in single words: freedom, justice, honor, duty, mercy, hope".
We read echoes of Churchill's comment upon Maggie's ornament, on which she has painted, "love, joy, dream, smile, hope". This comes as no surprise, for to spend time with the Conlons is to be reminded of the great man's words. Their reminder is not a verbal one; they do not tell you of these things. They DEMONSTRATE these timeless truths by the simple, understated manner in which they live their lives.
In this season between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Barb and I are thankful for the friendship of the Conlons, for the investment they have made in our daughter's life, and for the example they provide to all of us living in this community.
And as we gaze at our tree over the next several weeks, it won't be the light of the bulbs that bounces through our home. It will be the light of Catie and Maggie's kilowatt smiles; a projection of the Light that dwells within them.
Anyone interested in buying one of Maggie's MACC Star Christmas Ornaments can do so by going to Macccfund.org, or calling 800-248-8735. They cost $10.00, and are a great way to support the work of the MACC Fund.