When he was 6, Cameron Freeman put down his Legos and said he knew what hell was.
Hell is when you're mean to people, and how that makes you feel.
When he was 7, he watched a movie about a boy with AIDS. He spent the next three science fairs trying to find a cure.
When he was 21, he was killed on a Kansas highway.
Two nights after his funeral, his mother awoke and reached for her journal. Some of her words ran off the edge of the paper, others fell on top of each other.
Cameron's death is spiritual, much like the moment of birth. Awesome, sacred and profound but not without pain. I wouldn't want a molecule of that profound love to be contaminated with hatred and anger.
Her son had wanted to change the world, she wrote, but he felt so powerless.
So we have a call to action, in the name of change, that every person who expressed anger, hatred or disdain at hearing of Cameron's death should replace it with seven acts of kindness.
The Cameron Effect, she called it.
She fell back asleep.
* * *
They sheltered her after the accident, kept her away from the news stories.
But after Saturday's funeral at First-Plymouth, Shelley Freeman found a story on the Lawrence, Kan., newspaper website.
It was about her son and his three friends -- all 21-- returning to Lincoln early Nov. 23 after a concert in Lawrence. About the stolen pickup that rear-ended them on Highway 59, leaving his friend next to him in the backseat broken but still alive, and his other two friends in front escaping with only minor injuries.
Leaving her son dead.
She hit print. She was surprised by the number of pages that came out.
Then she saw so many of them were reader comments, and so many were filled with hate toward the pickup driver.
She knew these were people who cared about justice for her son, "people who were passionate about a lovely person removed."
"I thought it was so sad. We have been surrounded by love, and Cameron was such a gift to us, and to have that bubble kind of burst by anger and contempt for this other person."
She thought about her son, and what he meant to people, and how they could turn that anger into compassion.
And try to change the world.
Do seven acts of kindness toward someone you wouldn't normally be kind to.
"Doing it toward your neighbor is easy. So this is doing it to people it's difficult to show compassion to."
Then let the world know how your acts made you feel, how they changed you, she said. Talk about it. Blog about it. Declare it.
Her son would have turned 22 on Tuesday -- Dec. 7.
His mother chose that day for the Cameron Effect.
* * *
But it had already started.
Shelley and Paul Freeman visited Cameron's friend Fernando Pages -- Dito to friends and family -- several times in his Kansas hospital room.
Dito had been sitting beside Cameron in the backseat.
Dito's father hadn't been sure how to help his son. All he could do was sit by Dito's bed and stroke his hair.
Shelley, a psychotherapist and research psychologist, helped him, coached him, reassured him he was helping.
"This mother who just lost her child is consoling me because mine is in the hospital," said Dito's father, former Lincoln homebuilder Fernando Pages.
"I don't think they indulged bitterness, regret, all those feelings that are very natural but can create a dark cycle."
Shelley was in Dito's room Tuesday when he woke up. He didn't know Cameron was gone.
She told him.
"They brought him the news, but it wasn't like they came just to bring him the news. They came to be with him and support him."
His son was shocked, the father said, because in Dito's mind he'd just talked to his friend.
Cameron had wished him well, told him he missed him.
"That was a nice thing for Shelley to hear," Dito's father said.
* * *
Shelley wasn't surprised.
The night she awoke and started writing about the Cameron Effect, her son had been with her.
Not a voice, not a vision.
It was just Cameron.
Cameron is now all about peace, forgiveness and understanding, and he feels revenge and violence and anger is not the answer.
When he was 6, Cameron Freeman put down his Legos and said he knew what heaven was.
Heaven is when you're good to people, and how that makes you feel.
Reach Peter Salter at 402-473-7254 or firstname.lastname@example.org.