Jeff was working for McDonald’s Corporation to play the character of Ronald McDonald. One standard monthly event is the “Ronald Day” that they would visit as many of the community hospitals as possible, bringing a little happiness to places where no one ever looks forward to going. Jeff loved the event, the warmth and gratification he would receive stayed with him for weeks. Not only Jeff, McDonald’s, the kids and adults, even the nursing and hospital staffs loved “Ronald Day”.
There were two restrictions placed on Jeff during a visit. First, Jeff could not go anywhere in the hospital without McDonald’s personnel as well as hospital personnel. That way, if Jeff walked into a room and frightened a child, there was someone to address the issue immediately. Second, Jeff could not physically touch anyone within the hospital to avoid Jeff to transfer germs from one patient to another. Breaking either of these rules meant Jeff could lose his job.
In one “Ronald Day” event, as Jeff was heading down a hallway after a long day in grease paint and on his way home, he heard a little voice. “Ronald, Ronald.”
He stopped. The soft little voice was coming through a half-opened door. He pushed the door open and saw a young boy, about five years old, lying in his dad’s arms, hooked up to medical equipment. Mom was on the other side, along with Grandma, Grandpa and a nurse tending to the equipment.
Jeff knew by the feeling in the room that the situation was grave. He asked the little boy his name. The boy told Jeff his name was Billy. Jeff did a few simple magic tricks for Billy. As Jeff stepped back to say goodbye, he asked Billy if there was anything else he could do for him.
“Ronald, would you hold me?”
Such a simple request. But if Jeff touched Billy, Jeff could lose his job. So, he told Billy he could not do that right now and suggested to color a picture together. Upon completing the picture, Billy again asked Jeff to hold him. This time, Jeff had to ponder why he could not grant the simple request of a little boy who probably would not be going home. He asked himself why was him being logically and emotionally torn apart by someone he had never seen before and probably would never see again.
“Hold me.” It was such a simple request, and yet …
Jeff searched for any reasonable response that would allow him to leave. He could not come up with a single one. It took him a moment to realize that in this situation, losing his job may not be the disaster he feared. He would lose his job, then his car, his home … But at the end of his life, the only things that had steadfast value were experiences. Once he reminded himself that the real reason he was there was to bring a little happiness to an unhappy environment, he realized that he really faced no risk at all.
Then he picked up little Billy. Billy was so frail and so scared. They talked and laughed for 45 minutes. Billy talked about things that worried him. He was afraid that his little brother might get lost coming home from kindergarten next year without him showing the way. He worried that his dog wouldn’t get another bone because he had hidden the bones in the house before coming to hospital, and now he couldn’t remember where he put them.
There were problems to a little boy who knew he was not going home.
On his way out of the room, with tear-streaked makeup running down his neck, Jeff gave Billy’s Mom and Dad his real name and phone number and said if there was anything McDonald’s or him could do, just gave him a call. Less than 48 hours later, Jeff received a phone call from Billy’s Mom that Billy had passed away. She and her husband simply wanted to thank Jeff for making a difference in their little boy’s life.
Billy’s Mom told Jeff that shortly after he left the room, Billy looked at her and said, “Momma, I don’t care if I see Santa this Christmas because I was held by Ronald McDonald.”
Sometimes we must do what is right for the moment, regardless of the perceived risk. Only experiences have value. McDonald’s did find out about what happened between Jeff and Billy. Given the circumstances, Jeff was permitted to retain his job.