23 November 2008

The Fighter Still Remains - BRENDEN FOSTER 1997-2008



The body of Brenden Foster has died. No longer is this bright, shining soul encased in a shell wracked with leukemia. No longer is he lying in a hospital bed with tubes coming out of his body and oxygen being pumped into his lungs.

I woke up yesterday morning to the news that he is no longer among us. He breathed his last while being held gently in his mother's loving arms. You may notice that I am avoiding saying that he is dead. This is on purpose. I am not in denial; I am not pretending that he is still among us. Sadly, he is gone.

So, for those who may not know, who is Brenden Foster. He is a boy of 11. Until a couple years ago, he was a little boy like many others, running around playing, just being a kid. Then he was diagnosed with leukemia. Since then he was been fighting and fighting, a true, small warrior, an inspiration to us. Is superimposing his face on a supernova a bit over-the-top? I think not.

It is always poignant when a child dies, whether little Zinna Linnick, kidnapped, raped, murdered or Ryan White, who died of AIDS some years ago after a very public battle or Sandeep Singh who achieved shaheedi in Delhi in 1984. Those have names. Equally touching is the death of the nameless child killed by American or Taliban bombs in Afghanistan or the little girl, unwanted, murdered preborn in Punjab (or British Columbia!) or the much-loved child that dies of starvation in his mother's arms or a lonely child crawling slowly toward food and shelter anywhere on earth.

What moves me most about Brenden Foster is the picture I saw of him on CNN. Tears streaming down his chubby cheeks, he was asked, "What makes you sad." He took a breath and responded gently, "When someone gives up." Brenden never gave up. His last wish was to feed homeless people.

He saw a story on TV about homeless people living in tents in Nickelsville, which I have already written about. Unlike me, however, Brenden did more than write and feel bad about it. He inspired others to get together sandwiches to feed these people. Not just peanut butter and jelly, he told workers, but ham and cheese as well, since some people are allergic to peanuts.

Last week, there was a huge local food drive to get people to donate food to the hungry. Brenden was awake and conscious and was able to see his last wish of feeding the homeless realised. Truck after truck was filled with food donated by people inspired by this extraordinary eleven year old child.

And this seemed to have caught on. I have heard about food drives around the country in his honour. This is wonderful. But I know Brenden would say that this is not enough. Feeding people once is good, but it's just not enough.

Here in Seattle recently, a very large, inclusive Food Bank had to shut down for lack of funding. This place not only fed the hungry but also aided immigrants, helped people find jobs and ran a free food bank. In addition, they sold refurbished computers with free Internet access at rock-bottom prices. Yes, this very computer that makes it possible for me to talk to you was bought there. I expect to hear about a Brenden Foster Memorial Fund to aid in such circumstances. If I hear, I'll let you know.

Seattle's professional football team, the Seattle Seahawks has offered to pay for his funeral, relieving his mother, Wendy Foster, of at least one worry.

I have found this website that should give the latest Brenden Foster news.

When I die, I suppose my friends and family will insist on having a funeral. There is a song I have requested be sung there, the last verse of Paul Simon's "The Boxer." It is how I want to be remembered.

It is how I will remember Brenden Foster.

In the clearing stands a boxer and a fighter by his trade,
And he carries the reminders of every glove that laid him down,
Or cut him till he cried out in his anger and his shame,
I am leaving, I am leaving.
But the fighter still remains.

Yes, indeed, the fighter still remains!