Sunday, March 9, 2003

What makes Jim fly?

Bad guys mostly are boring. Predictable. Sit in a courtroom for a few days, and see if you don't agree.

Something terrible was done to them, so they pass it along. They are corroded by bitterness, inspired to violence. Life deals them a bad hand, and they lose the game.

Goodness is a lot more complicated. Mysterious, really.

Take Jimmy Clark, age 17. He could have been bitter or sad. He could have retreated to a world of video games or chat rooms. He could have done many things with his young life - including sitting it out.

Nature provided an excuse.

Mary, his mom, says she noticed that at 9 months, Jimmy couldn't hold on to his bottle. He wasn't sitting up. Cerebral palsy, doctors told Mary and her husband, Don.

"It was a very black day," Mary says.

Probably not the last one, but you won't hear much about that from Jimmy. A junior at Newport High School, an Eagle Scout. A kid who at age 12 started a Christmas toy drive for disadvantaged children. A young man who gets out of his wheelchair every chance he has.

"Jimmy has drive. Things might take him longer, but he never gives up. I feel sorry for kids who take it for granted," Mary says.

"It" being walking, running, casually directing your arms and hands to do your bidding, speaking without effort, winning a very big prize.

Only about 2 percent of all the millions of Boy Scouts become Eagles. "At first, I didn't think I could make it," Jimmy says. He gives a lot of credit to the other scouts in Troop 751 of Southgate, Ky. And to his family.

Jimmy - he thinks maybe he'll start encouraging people to call him "Jim" in deference to his advanced age - says I'd probably get a better picture of his life if I watched his video.

"It's only 22 minutes," his mom said. "Jimmy did it all, picked out the pictures and music. A lot of it is our family. Hope you won't be bored."

The snapshots flash on screen, some with captions. "Learning to paint." A little boy with his father, big hand over small one. Elton John's voice: "It's the circle of life. It's the wheel of fortune."

Another photo. Somebody leaning casually on the back of Jimmy's wheelchair. A lake in the foreground. They're fishing to Louis Armstrong's incomparable mix of gravel and honey - "I think to myself, what a wonderful world."

So, why is it that this boy thinks to himself, "what a wonderful world''? His mom had promised that "a lot of it is our family," which is probably one answer. Along with some special teachers and friends. He's very independent, but sometimes somebody had to help hoist the chair up where wheelchairs aren't usually found. Rough campgrounds, riverbanks.

One photo shows Jim rappelling, flying down the rock face like the Eagle Scout he is as Garth Brooks sings, "Choose to chance the rapids, dare to dance the tide."


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