Published: Fresh U. July 29, 2016. Viewable here.
Hundreds of people recently gathered together for a worthy cause outside, on a week-day, in 105 degree heat purely out of the kindness of their hearts – an event heartening and reassuring in itself. But, even more so, is the focus of this event – a 6-year-old boy whose story has spread nationally and whose humble spirit inspired a city.
On Sunday morning my mom showed me an ad in The Sacramento Bee for an event centered around granting the wish of a sick child. She had already made up her mind we were going after learning the story of Ethan Dean.
18 days after his birth, Ethan was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis – an incurable and inherited disease which damages the lungs and causes breathing complications. Every morning Ethan begins his day by breathing through a nebulizer – a machine which creates mist – for 20 minutes before putting on a vibrating vest for another 20 minutes that helps to loosen mucus in his lungs.
Ethan had his humble wish of being a garbage man come true thanks to the efforts of The Make A Wish foundation and with the help of the Sacramento city who learned about the event via radio stations and the aforementioned ad in The Bee which listed Ethan’s garbage pick-up route. Kept entirely secret from Ethan, his wish was made a reality on Tuesday, July 26 as he road around in a Waste Management truck escorted around the city by police, stopping to actually pick up garbage and recyclables.
On Tuesday morning, Ethan was surprised at his elementary school with the event, running through a tunnel of his classmates and a celebratory banner before being presented with an actual garbage truck labeled “Ethan’s Garbage Truck Est. 2016.”
Although the wish might seem simple, Ethan’s parents said they knew his wish would be garbage-man-themed and that he has always been infatuated with everything garbage truck and garbage man – playing with toys, watching the clean-up happen, etc.
My mom works in Sacramento, and just after 10:00 a.m. she and I, along with her many co-workers, walked to a spot along Ethan’s route in between his pick-up stops. On Twitter, photos posted under #EthanCleansUp showed huge groups with balloons and signs waiting at each stop – because we did not gather at one of the designated stops, there were only few other supporters lined down this particular street of his route.
A while after arriving and expectantly anticipating Ethan’s drive down the street in the garbage truck, a Make A Wish volunteer pulled to the side of the road to profusely thank us for our presence and asked us to wait just minutes more for Ethan to roll down the street. And suddenly flashing lights from the large police escort group in front of his garbage truck indicated his arrival – Ethan, wearing sunglasses, looked at our small group, cheering as wildly as we could, and smiled.
Later in the day, at a few minutes before noon, my mom and I headed to the Sacramento Capitol, Ethan’s final stop on his route. Some news publications estimate that over 500 people gathered at the capitol, awaiting Ethan, in heat creeping towards 110 degrees.
The police sirens sounded and the crowd, bursting with pride and sheer happiness, cheered madly. A green carpet, which was rolled out from the passenger door where Ethan got out to the side of a stage set up in front of the capitol building was thickly lined with supporters and a plethora of creative signs (my own was my mother’s creation, a print-out of Oscar the Grouch in a garbage can thanking Ethan).
Ethan was propped up on his father’s shoulders and smiled as he was escorted through the crowd.
“And to you, and to your mom and dad, and your family and to all the good people who helped put this together – but especially you – thank you for making us feel so good,” Sacramento Mayor-Elect Darrell Steinberg said to Ethan. “You’re a Sacramento hero.”
And Ethan, at the end of his day, said “It’s been the best day ever.”