Tuesday, February 15, 2011


My meeting with young Michael Muessig of Madison, N.Y. and his family was a tide of conflicting emotions -- while it was a time of real joy and excitement, it was also an event overshadowed by a cloud of tragedy.  

Jan. 23, 2011 was a festive occasion at the Oneida N.Y. Walmart, on a par with maybe only the annual Black Friday furor. No, it totally beat out the excitement of that pre-Christmas shopping day, because how often do you walk in on a red carpet with cheerleaders at the door and a band playing just inside the entrance?

Not to mention several hundred old and new friends there to greet you?

That was the scene as 11-year-old cancer patient Michael arrived in a limousine for his Make-A-Wish Foundation sponsored shopping spree.

Asked what he wanted for his wish from the Foundation, Michael decided on a spree of $1,000 to spend at the store. When he arrived, however, he found that original wish had multiplied several times over.

(Michael Muessig, 11, shops the Oneida Walmart in Jan. 23 in his custom-decorated electric shopping cart.)

That expected $1,000 spree quickly escalated to more than $4,000, as Walmart personnel presented funds they raised on their own, plus folks from Michael's school added in their own donation well-wishes.

(Walmart store manager Steve Stanton counts out gift cards for Michael before he starts his shopping spree.)

There might not have been any happier kid on the planet during the few hours he rode around the store in his custom-decorated electric shopping cart, wearing his brand new Colgate University hockey jersey and hat. That attire came in handy, as he was surprised in the electronics department by a visit from the hockey team members themselves.

The players gave him hugs and encouragement, and left everyone around them feeling their genuine compassion for the youngster.

(Members of the Colgate University hockey team join Michael in making his wish come true.)

Surrounded by family and helpers from the store, Michael cruised around filling his cart and several others behind him as he checked off items from his list. The excitement was infectious; for a short time, the hundreds of supporters surrounding him with their love made his grim prognosis momentarily not quite so important.

(Walmart staffers took the time from their store duties to assist Michael in his shopping, showing him to all the items on his list.)

The reality of Michael's condition soon came back with a vengeance, however, and this morning, less than a month since his Walmart visit, the Madison Central School 6th-grader passed away. He leaves behind his parents Dana and David and his three siblings Damien, 10, Ethan, 8, and Alyssa, 5.

(Top photo: Michael with mom Dana; bottom: Michael with dad David, brothers Damien and Ethan, and sister Alyssa.) 

The spirit shown in the youngster that afternoon should be a lesson to everyone. He never let his illness get in the way of his Walmart fun. Michael rode that cart with pride, enjoying every minute and not thinking about the few weeks he might have left. So, too, did all of those people around him empathize with the festivities. They didn't dwell on his condition -- they put that aside for the moment to share with him the adventure of living his wish-come-true. 

If there was ever a message to live for the day, then that was the one delivered by Michael Muessig that afternoon at Walmart. 

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