I'm still posting on the Facebook page for Norman's benefit. This message arrived the other day. From a friend of Sarah's (Norman's daughter)...she attended the benefit and wrote this beautiful tribute.
From: Julia Bean
I just want to share this. The benefit on Saturday had a profound impact on me and likely a thousand other people. Thank you -
Before moving to the farm, we had neighbors in a small little community of four houses called Candy Apple Addition. We became especially close to Mike and Sarah who lived in the round house up the hill from us. The friendship between Sarah and I came into its fullness when I was recovering from a surgery several years ago. Out of the blue one day, she showed up delivering a care package to me. And then she came every few days after that and brought her daughter along. It wasn’t necessarily the care package that made me well but her visits with her little girl toddling along behind her helped lift me up out of the blues and carried my mind away from the confines of our home. Sometimes we’d just lay on the bed reading childrens books together with Annabelle and often, didn’t even get to talk about girl stuff but it got my mind off being stuck in that house.
Over the years, our families grew together. We got to know Mike and Sarah’s parents and it was clear to me that this family had come from a long line of genuine goodness from both sides. If they saw us outside, they’d flag us over for a cool drink and a visit on the deck. One time Mike’s parents, who own an orchard had tons of apples they wanted to share so we spent an entire day peeling and coring and boiling apples for sauce. Both sets of grand-parents were there, Mary and Vern on Mikes side and Lorna and Norman on Sarah’s side. It was an unforgettable day of telling stories while we all worked on the deck. Other days there were birthday parties and home repairs, lawn care, bon fires, tinkering in the wood shop or sitting under the willow tree at the house on the hill. We loved the time together with them that usually involved some type of project and then relaxing under a shade tree visiting with one another after the work was done.
About three years ago, our lives shifted and we moved away from Candy Apple Addition. Shortly after, Mike and Sarah moved away yet we remained close and spent time with them at their new farm up north. One night Sarah called me. Norman, her dad, had been in a farm accident. It was believed that he was thrown from a four-wheeler while rotating pastures for his cattle. She didn’t know much yet but it was a neck or back injury and he couldn’t feel his legs. The pitch in her voice was unmistakably distraught with fear and uncertainty. He had been air lifted to the hospital. I tried to speak words of reassurance to her that the body was great at healing itself and this would surely get better. Our family prayed for Norman and their family. We read updates on a blog that the family kept throughout his recovery. He endured much therapy, a few surgeries and transfers to different facilities from Illinois to Minnesota. He remains paralyzed without use of his legs and arms and finally moved back home one year later after significant renovations were made to their home on the farm.
It was hard to fathom all of this was happening to this family. Both Doug and I had come to know Norman and Lorna, Sarah’s parents. We admired them and felt like a small extension of their family now too. They have a way of making you feel welcome and accepted. I would have guessed that Norman and Lorna were well known in their community even though we’re not geographically close. They just seemed like those kind of people. But until the benefit, I didn’t know exactly the degree that this family has had on others.
A benefit was planned for Norman in their town of Princeton, Iowa for April 13, 2013. If I had to guess, the town couldn’t be populated with any more than maybe 1000 people. Today was the day of the benefit. Pulling up to the Fire Station I saw signs along the side of the road indicating where someone could ride a shuttle to the benefit. I thought that was odd since it’s a small town and so I assumed that it was because there probably wasn’t a lot of parking available. I began seeing cars lined up on the streets and not knowing where the Fire Station is, I assumed it couldn’t be much farther away. It was actually five blocks away. I passed the station and saw cars parked along every side street for blocks and blocks on each side. There was a parking lot and it was full. It looked like a small town parade was being held and I expected the streets to be blocked off in a similar way. I just kept driving around in awe of this unbelievable sight. By then, the shuttle bus was sounding more and more like a good idea. On my second round past the long line of cars, I saw the line of people waiting to gain entrance to the benefit. I couldn’t believe it! I checked the time and the event had started an hour ago. This was remarkable! My excitement was building for the amount of people that had come out to support this family.
Finding a place to park, I got out and secured my spot in line. Looking around me, I saw a bouquet of people waiting in front of me. There were two young women in front of me with designer bags and platform shoes. A tall man ahead of them, holding his daughter and a little one at his side grabbing on tight. Coming up on the left was an old woman in a flowered dress holding the hand of her husband, pulling him along to the front of the line since they already had tickets. A handful of farmers were in front of the designer girls. To my right was a patio set that was being auctioned off. In one of the chairs sat a tiny little lady wrapped in a quilt waiting for her granddaughter to find them a seat.
Conversely, I saw a similar mixture of people coming out carrying a plate of goodies. Three Carmelite nuns came out and hugged a group of girls they recognized. One guy came out chewing on a toothpick telling the anticipating crowd that it was worth the wait. And it was.
When I got to the door, the congestion of the people continued from room to room. The sound of an auctioneer through tin-sounding speakers was in the background. People were hugging and laughing. There were rows upon rows of banquet tables filled with a sea of people. Over to my right behind a row of tables, there they were, Lorna standing next to Norman in his wheelchair. She was smiling her quiet and gentle smile as usual, patting a little girl on the head while a line of people waiting to greet them gathered behind them too.
Off to my left was an entire room of tables lined with row after row of silent auction items. Baskets and boxes of goods, quilts, platters, jewelry and gift certificates. I just followed the flow of the people in front of me gazing upon the items but not really registering the contents. I couldn’t stop thinking about all of these people present. I listened to those around me and heard many comments about this tremendous show of support. After I made the rounds, I looked for my friends and found Mike and their son, William. Gave him my regards and asked him to pass a hello along to Sarah knowing that getting time with her to chat wasn’t a likely encounter on this exciting day. We would catch up another time.
Since I was there alone, I decided not to work toward finding a spot to sit amidst the crowd. I took a pass on the hometown plate of food to quietly make my exit. I walked out as tears welled in my eyes for the fullness of love and energy that surrounded the people in this place. I couldn’t get over the palpable love in the room. A wall of emotion met me as I thought about all of it. I was so taken aback by the support for this man and his family. It was so much to take in.
How had this family impacted so many? How had they engaged the hearts of so many in their life? My mind searched for how it must have played out over the years. Was it through their farming life or through Lorna’s teaching? Was it from his days selling insurance or through raising their three children? What about Norman’s involvement in associations or singing with the barbershop quartet?
My hour drive back home was in quiet reflection for what had been revealed to me today. What had called that large outpouring of support to embrace this phenomenal family? Was it a sudden drive by curiosity of a small town? Was it folks simply being nice to a guy who had a tough year? Was it pity? Were people dropping by to get in on an auction? No, definitely not any of those things.
My thoughts finally led me to this. It was this man. It was this man…and this family…that had been sowing seeds all their life. Their approach was good old fashioned love for one another in this world.
They were friends to others before others came to be friends to them. Long before this tragedy struck the Sawyer family, they were reaching out first just like Sarah did so many years before when I was sick. They extended friendship and love and support first. They treated others with kindness and encouragement before they received it in return. They had a smile, a kind word, offered a favor, gave of their time, listened to others, cared, embraced. How beautiful, how lovely, how absolutely inspiring!!!
I asked myself these next questions. Perhaps you’ll do the same.
If tomorrow, my life was altered the way the Sawyers has been, would there be the amount of people there to support me?
Have I sowed seeds of love to inspire others?
Have I supported enough people to inspire them to better and greater things?
Have I loved enough to receive love in return as Norman Sawyer has?
After reading an article about Norman Sawyer, it says “Norman is inspired by the support of his community. He hopes, one day, he can become someone else's inspiration.” Indeed, I was inspired today! I want to sow seeds like he did. He has inspired me to be a better person. I am astounded by this revelation that I received today and grateful to God for gifting this world with Norman Sawyer and his family.
God bless the Norman Sawyer family...always.