Jewish World Review July 3, 2001 / 12 Tamuz, 5761
Your response to the story about Greg Molinari is as good an example as I can think of -- and there have been so many of them over the years -- of why the bond between a newspaper, and the people who read it, is like nothing else in American life. Sometimes, in the rush of things, I momentarily forget that. But then something happens to remind me.
Greg is the 30-year-old man who lives with his parents in LaGrange Park, Ill. who, when he was a child, suffered a brain tumor that left him legally blind. As a boy in school, because through no fault of his own he was different from healthier, stronger students, things were not easy for him; his health has been uneven over the years -- he was in a coma and on a ventilator last year -- and his options are rather few.
But he is a remarkable person. He earned a college degree, sometimes spending five hours a day on a bus commute so he could attend a single class. He loves books -- his vision is so poor that he must move his face almost right on top of the text so he can see it, but reading is his favorite thing in the world. He has a job at the Brookfield Public Library, where he quietly toils away until his mother and father pick him up at night. His only social life is when he goes to a local bingo hall, or when -- on payday every two weeks -- he takes his parents out to dinner.
I met Greg because his mother, Lois Molinari, asked me for some suggestions about things the family could do for his 30th birthday, to let him know how proud they are of him. She said one of his teachers once told her: "Greg is the one student in the class who would have every right to complain about his life, yet he is the one child who never complains." For the day he turned 30, his mother was trying to do something to make him know just how much his family loves and admires him.
I've already written about how your response to the story provided Greg with a three-day birthday celebration last weekend that brought everyone involved in it to tears. But today I wanted to tell you not about Greg, but about yourselves.
Those among you who volunteered to give up your own Saturday-night tickets to sold-out shows so Greg and his family could have them; those of you who sent me your tickets to Cubs and White Sox games, for the Molinaris; those of you who offered to drive them; the young woman who invited Greg out for a day with her and her friends; those of you who simply wrote your words of encouragement; the restaurant owners on glittering downtown streets and in modest neighborhoods, offering to be the family's host for dinner; those of you who went to the Brookfield library to congratulate Greg. . . .
I mentioned in the first column that Greg's 30th birthday coincides with my 30th year writing a column in Chicago newspapers. That anniversary is this weekend; 30 years ago I did this for the first time.
At the Cadillac Palace theater last weekend, as I was looking for Greg and his family so I could get them to the seats some of you donated, people kept stopping me to ask: "Did you get the tickets?" "Did you find him a seat?" They'd read about Greg; I didn't know any of them, but they wanted to know if he'd be attending the show.
Sometimes I take that kind of thing for granted; I write the column in the Tribune, and people read it. But on that night, I stopped for a second to think. When I came here from central Ohio, I didn't know a single person in Chicago. Not one. I wanted to learn how to be a newspaper reporter. What a 30 years it has been. "Is that young man going to be able to come to the show?" the voices in the theater lobby asked. All of you, whom I now know.
One of the things I'm regrettably lousy at is answering my mail. I try, but it always seems to come down to the question of: Do I answer these wonderful letters now, or do I write the column that the copy desk is waiting for? The column always wins. It probably always will.
So I apologize to all of you -- this week, and over the 30 years -- who may not have heard from me after you wrote. I feel especially bad about that in light of some of the letters I've seen that Greg Molinari is writing to you, to thank you. I've sent all of your letters -- all of your birthday wishes -- to him. He has a lovely, generous, thoughtful writing style, and even though it takes him a while, he intends to send notes to each of you. His family hopes he will develop some pen pals--can you say "pen pals" in this e-mail age?--out of this.
I mentioned to you that you may have changed his life forever. It has already begun, because of the warmth you have shown him; you can see it in his face. Cindy Moriarity, a fellow employee at the Brookfield library, told me: "I've worked with Greg for a little over three years, and I've never seen him smile like this."
You're the ones who did that. Greg's mother told me she started weeping during the performance of "Mamma Mia!" at the Cadillac Palace when the cast began to sing a song called "I Had a Dream." She said there is a line in the song that goes:
"I believe in angels. . . ."
So do I. I have for a long time. I don't know how you could do this kind of
work if you