If it's true that only the good die young, then we can all rest a little easier, for Greg Singleton will have died for a reason. Otherwise, it is hard to accept the death of a 20-year-old -- and just as hard to accept what his loss means to Children's Hospital.
Greg Singleton died there on Oct. 29 after an eight-year battle with a disease called scleroderma. That's an obscure circulatory ailment in which the body conspires against itself -- growing patches of flesh that block the flow of blood, first to the extremities, later to the vital organs.
It is a slow, nasty way to go. First you have trouble holding things in your hands. Then you have trouble swallowing. Then walking. Finally, all systems simply stop working for lack of blood. It's gradual, and it's irresistible. And because it is, the spirit of the scleroderma victim usually breaks long before his body.
But that was exactly what Greg Singleton didn't permit. Not only did he seek a college education and a career, even though he knew his life expectancy was limited, but Singleton served for seven years as a volunteer at Children's. He counseled other patients and helped with chores, both as an in-patient and as an out-patient.
"There was just a specialness about him," said Augusta Widmer, the former director of volunteers. "He attacked life with a positive attitude you very seldom see in people so sick. I think he felt the hospital was kind of another family. That's why he'll be missed."
Greg is missed, too, by the staff of the Export-Import Bank of the United States, where, despite his illness, he worked as a clerk in the summer of 1978. By passing the hat, Greg's friends at Ex-Im put together a fund in his memory last week. It totaled $474.57.
"All who knew Greg Singleton were impressed by his intelligence, warmed by his charm, inspired by his courage and moved by his faith," wrote Dave Coleman, a lending assistant, in a memo that did the rounds at the bank. Since Children's Hospital was so important to Singleton, "it is fitting that his friends should want to express their love and esteem for him through a special contribution to that institution," Coleman said.
I think it's also fitting that readers get a glimpse at a poem Greg Singleton wrote in 1979. By then, he surely knew he was not going to make it. But the poem is as positive as anything you'll ever see. It's called "I Can't, I Bid You Farewell." You ask me who I'm waving at, you say it's not visual. You're right, but this foe can certainly make your life miserable. You stand there puzzled, not quite understanding what I mean You question my statement about being hurt, by the unseen. Well, I'll try my best to answer you, and I hope you comprehend That what I'm waving at is well known, and has staggered many men You see, I'm not waving because of a loss, but of a gain Neither is my distorted facial expression because of any pain Yes, something is leaving, and yet I do not mourn You see, "I can't" has died and "I can" has been born No longer will I worry about if I shall fail. "I can't" has been bid a final farewell.
So has Greg Singleton. But his memory and example can live on at Children's Hospital -- with your help.