I'm a full day late with this but Mark will forgive me because is the kindest person I have ever met.
Nineteen years and one day ago my oldest grandchild came into the world. It was a difficult birth and we almost lost both mother and child. Mark's face was scarred and some muscles were injured by the forceps the doctor had to use. He was born -- if I remember correctly -- with seven holes in his heart; but they slowly closed over his first few months. The scar on his face has faded so that only his mother could find it now. The weakened facial muscles meant that he was slow to talk -- only after intense therapy would he utter his first word: "bubbles!"
Yet from the very beginning he was very bright and organized. By the time he was two, he was boarding a school bus (with his bottle and diapers) for an early intervention program the city provided. He became part of a triumverate with Joey, a crippled boy in braces and who had to undergo a series of operations, and Melissa, a Down syndrome girl; Mark served both as best friend and protector. By the time Mark entered kindergarten, all developmental issues were gone -- thanks to the hard work of his teachers, social workers, medical staff, and his family. He made friends easily
and was well-regarded by both peers and teachers.
Mark has always been a quiet person and very bright. Even prior to kindergarten he was an "expert" on dinosaurs, able to recognize each type from its picture. His goal was to be a Power Ranger. In elementary school, he would draw up plans for his family to survive the zombie apocalypse. He became enthralled with soccer and would draw up complicated soccer plays to pass the time. From the beginning he loved animals (in his household that was a given) and had a succession of lizards, snakes, and turtles to mingle with various dogs, cats, and goats in the household -- well the goats were not in the house, they had their own outside pen.
He can be very shy but is foremost a loyal friend. Despite his shyness people look up to him and for good reason: he was a strong moral fiber backed by a sense of decency and a foundation of kindness. He has a quiet, wry sense of humor that can surprise people with its dead-on accuracy.
While in junior high school he took an interest in running. Several years ago we took him to participate in a 5K; he came in third, first in his age group, and well ahead of the fourth-place runner. At sixteen, he entered the Pensacola Marathon and placed first in his age group. This year he ran the race again but was unable to practice due to both inclement weather and to his school activities -- Mark still ran with the top ten percent in that race. He has grit.
Mark is also extremely handsome -- something he will not admit and perhaps embarrasses him. He is a private person and does not like to call attention to himself. Those he does let into his circle should be very proud. Do not get the idea that he is stuck up; Mark is a kind, generous, and giving young man, always willing to help. He seeks out the best in people and finds it.
He's smart and methodical. Recently he has been able to integrate his rational side with his spiritual side, which perhaps surprised some but not most who know him. He has always marched to his own beat and those who find themselves marching with him along the way are the lucky ones.
He is now nineteen and finishing his first year of college. Whatever the future hold for him, he will meet it with grace, gratitude, kindness, and a certain assuredness.
He is a swell kid and we are so proud of him. We could not love him more.