Today I rode down to Memphis with my friend, Tammy, and her 8 year old son, Robbie. In October of last year the doctors removed a lump from Robbie’s leg. After considerable amount of time and consernation on the part of many top doctors at Johns Hopkins and elsewhere he was diagnosed with a rare form of NK Lymphoma, one that has characterists of luekemia as well. Early last year he began an aggressive treatment plan that involved intense chemotherapy for 146 weeks and monthly trips to Memphis for treatment at St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. I am writing this post from the St. Jude’s campus.
So today I watched while child after child checked in here with their families. Some are in wheelchairs, some are bald, some are sporting bandages, but very few were crying or fussy. Kids take their lives as they come and they play and take what joy is available to them regardless.
Robbie knows what he is facing. But even knowing what this trip holds, Robbie has joked around, giggled, watched movies, rocked out to Queen in the car, agreed to go out to Huey’s for dinner even though he was tired because Tammy told him I might not want to eat pizza in the room (I think SHE didn’t want to) and while he has had a few breakdowns he has mostly just been a kid. He has a light saber he takes everywhere (well not to dinner but everywhere else) and he still has a skip in his step.
But he showed me his favorite piece of art - a stormy abstract that says “Who am I? I am not my illness” and he understands exactly what that means. I’m watching kids who have had to ask the question “am I going to die” and have had to face the answer and they still play. I’m watching the parents who have had to field that question who are managing to play with them, and to discipline them when necessary, knowing they could lose them sooner rather than later. I am listening to the stories of the other children they have known here and which ones I will meet tomorrow and which ones have finished treatment and which ones have “earned their angel wings”.
And I am thinking of the perspective this offers us all. Not “it could be worse, who am I to complain” but a reminder that life is short for all of us and we all have hardships, but it is meant to be experienced and we are meant to play! We don’t know what lies ahead and we can’t change what is behind us. But here, in this moment, we can choose to play and experience joy. There won’t be a better time than now!