My name is Tyler Mechem. I was a friend of Stephen Hamer's. It has been 15 years since Stephen's Make-A-Wish trip to Pebble Beach, and my perspective on granting wishes for kids like Stephen has changed considerably since then. We were about 15 years old when Stephen was diagnosed with cancer. And like most boys our age, we considered ourselves bulletproof. I recall thinking Stephen shouldn't even really apply for a wish— it wouldn't be prudent. We were going to kick the cancer's butt, go off to college, and live 'normal' lives. We didn't need any charity...we needed girlfriends. At the time, I think I saw his wish as a type of "pity gift"—something you did for kids when you accepted their terminal fate. In my young adolescent mind, having a wish granted wasn't something you did when you still had hope for a happy ending. So, while at the time I was happy that Steve was getting his wish because I knew he would have a blast, I had some reservations about what it meant to actually get a wish granted.
Now, as a 32 year old with a wife and son of my own, my thoughts on wishes have matured and changed considerably. I now look back at Stephen's wish, and I'm so thankful that a great many people came together to do something nice for my friend. I look at it as more of a “Thank You” now, and less of an "I'm sorry you're so sick... let's go do something fun to take your mind off of it." Here's why I'm grateful we were able to give Stephen such a remarkable Thank You. Stephen, like so many kids with cancer, became the most poignant teacher to everyone around him, myself included. Watching someone so close to me get thrust into the undeniable revelation of how potentially short and vulnerable life can be was a profound experience that would determine and shape so many of the decisions I would go on to make with my life. I am, without a shadow of a doubt, who I am because of who Stephen was and the grace in which he moved through his short life.
One of the many memories I have of Stephen is when we attended another friend's funeral who died in a car wreck. Steve was battling cancer at the time and was going to meet me at the funeral viewing. He was on time to the funeral home—of course. I was not—of course. I walked in to find a huge line and Stephen already at the front of it. I waved to him and walked back to the end of the line. Immediately, he gave up his place at the front of the line to wait in the back of the line with me. At the time, it was just another example of how he was a remarkable friend. Nobody wants to spend any more time in a funeral home than you have to, but he went to the back of the line with me so I didn't have to wait alone. And looking back, that memory is much more symbolic to me than just an act of kindness. I now look at in this light –he was almost taken by cancer several times before finally succumbing. But he kept moving to the back of the proverbial "line" long enough to teach me and others around him some very important lessons.
In his graduation speech, Stephen spoke about "tomorrow is never promised." Usually those valedictory speeches are just regurgitated clichés of generic advice—sound advice, but altogether hollow of impact. But in Steve's case, he actually knew what he was talking about because he was living through it. When you hear your best friend up there on stage in a graduation robe, like a bald-headed sage, speaking a personal and universal truth from a place of genuine experience—it is a gut-shot that wakes you up and tattoos your decision-making DNA forever. After that speech he didn't have very many tomorrows left. But his lesson of "getting into the present, thriving in the present, and cherishing every day and opportunity you have" is one that forever shaped my life.
And now, all these years later, I am a better man from having him as a childhood friend. He didn't grow old with the rest of us, but his advice and lessons have been carrying us and awaiting us at every point along the way. Looking back at how positively he shaped my life, I would love to say Thank You to him. Thank you for showing me the value of my life. It is a simple sentiment, but truly knowing the value of your own life gives you the nerve, the courage, and the urgency to make your life truly amazing. He did that for me. He's not here for me to say it in person to him. But, if I could, I would want to take him somewhere amazing to say Thank You. I would want to do something incredible and out of the ordinary to say Thank You. I would want to take him to Pebble Beach. And maybe that is one of the best parts of wishes— they are Thank You’s to the kids from all those who are inspired by them. Make-A-Wish kids inspire strength. They inspire hope. They inspire joy. They inspire the most pure and simple passion for life.
I encourage everyone to consider helping Make-A-Wish this season and in the future. I will be doing so in honor of my friend Stephen.
Editor's Note: Each year, Stephen's wish is highlighted during the Indianapolis Request-A-Thon. To learn more about this event, click here. To read more about Stephen's story - and how his family is continuing his legacy - read Tom Hamer's Request-A-Thon blog post here.