At first glance, Jonny Maltempi looks and acts like your typical 16-year-old. He is looking forward to hanging out with his family and friends and hoping for a few new video games for Christmas. He is smiling and laughing and the bold words, Happy, Happy, Happy, are splashed across his t-shirt. But there is an underlying, unspoken sadness in the room.
The one thing that he and his family truly want for Christmas is the gift of time. Jonny, who, dreams of going to Italy, laughs that his parents have “the senses of a hawk,” and lights up the room when he smiles, has terminal brain cancer.
His speech, slow and deliberate, has been affected more recently by the tumors growing in his brain. What has not slowed is his message of helping others, being happy and hope. “It’s not important to think, I have to get this present and that present…it’s important to visit with family, wherever they may be and celebrate-celebrate each other.”
Jonny who volunteers at his church as a youth helper and, until recently, participated in school plays while undergoing multiple surgeries and chemotherapy, realizes that how you treat people is what really matters. “I had a lot of teachers that supported me. Miss Stanley was a good support. I would go back to play rehearsal and she would get me on track. I remember her saying that I was just shining and smiling even after all the stuff I’d gone through.”
His face also lights up when he thinks about a younger neighborhood boy who said something nice to him. The words could not quite come to him, but he said, “I know it was a compliment and every time I would go back and think about it, it would brighten my day!”
He has fond things to say about his family as well. “We are not perfect, but we are there for each other.” As for his parents, “I think they have done a good job. I mean my brothers and sisters have turned out good.” He adds that he knows they are always there for him. “After my third or fourth surgery, I just remember breaking down and crying and saying this is so unfair and they came downstairs and comforted me while I was weeping. They didn’t leave until I calmed down.”
Jonny quickly brings the conversation back to something upbeat and positive. His sense of humor bounces right back when asked about his hobbies. He laughed and responded, “taking pills,” and when he thought about the, ‘what I want for Christmas,’ question again, he responded, “I really want a Santa suit for my cat!”
In moments like that, you almost forget what he is facing. A glance across the room at his parents tells the real story.
His wisdom, though, is well beyond his years. He tries not to focus too far in the future; instead he focuses on the here and now. Jonny offers some advice, spoken honestly, and often with a laugh, to help others with their journey in life.
“I really don’t think about what will happen. I think, did I do a good job today and if not I’ll wait for the next day and try to do a better job.”
“Don’t be snooty! Cause if you are snooty, you are arrogant and self-absorbed. You only see you and you don’t see the world as a whole.”
“Just have fun in what you do. But when you do have fun, don’t get on people’s nerves. Make sure the good time doesn’t go on to annoying or angering someone else.”
“When people pray for me, it helps keep me calm, but it helps them too. They see how I’m doing and how I handle things and they learn from seeing me. It helps us both, really.”
“Stop with all the junk! School gossip and drama, it’s soooooo overrated.”
“I have not been popular all my years in middle school or high school, but I have friends that will stick by me.”
“I’m the person that’s watching and seeing what’s happening and thinking. I don’t know all the situations and I can’t help all the problems, but I can help in some.”
And the last one, meant for advice to his high school friends, may be even more profound than he realizes.
“This is the door to your life. There is somebody on the other side waiting for you to ring the door. You might ring the door, but the house is really big, so it might take a while for the person to get to the door. But there is always going to be someone to open the door.”