Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Season of Enchantment

Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack, a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.  That's how the light gets in.
~Leonard Cohen

The orderly wheeled the boy into the playroom on the 7th floor, just as he always did after dinner but before the nurse came to give him his medicine; this was his favorite time of the day.
“Well, hello there handsome. Come on in. I’ve been waiting for you . . .” She smiled, standing by the art table with her hands on her hips. “What’s new with you?”
He blushed, bright red. At 16, he was showing signs of his manhood—small patches of hair growing on either side of his chin—and his voice seemed to get a little deeper each time she saw him.
“Hello Miss V… Doc says I get to go home tomorrow, just in time for Christmas—“
“Oh Jack, that’s wonderful!” She clapped her hands in delight, and then suddenly frowned. “I’m sure gonna’ miss you when you’re gone . . .”
“Don’t be sad Miss V, you know I can’t stay away for long. . .” he said with a seriousness that broke her heart. Forty-two days, that’s how long he had been there this time—his sixth hospitalization this year—at first for a spinal fusion, and then for pneumonia like so many times before. But it was the cerebral palsy that kept him confined to his chair, unable to use his arms and legs.
She pulled a tissue from her pocket and dabbed at the drool forming in the corners of his mouth. “Hey, we’ve got some great new art projects tonight,” she said. “We can make a snowman . . . or a reindeer . . . oh, look . . . we could paint one of these ceramic angels or a Santa to hang on your tree . . . What do you feel like doing?”
“Ummm . . .” he contemplated his choices while scanning the room with his eyes. “Can we paint an angel for my mom? ‘Cause she’s an angel to me . . .”
“Of course we can, Jack . . . and then we can wrap it up and tie a ribbon around it, like this—” she said, holding up a cellophane bag with snowflakes on it, and a dark red ribbon for decoration.
“Yeah, let’s do that!” He smiled, eager to get started. Together they collected all of the supplies from the art cabinet that they would need to create his angelic vision—paint, brushes, a cup of water to rinse things off, a hand-towel and a bunch of newspapers to cover the table with. And as she prepared their workspace, she listened to him talking with the other children.
“Hi Lauren, how are you feeling today?” He asked, listening intently to her reply. And then to Kevin, “Did you beat your dad at foosball last night? I knew you would!” He laughed. And as Jenny’s mom prepared to wheel her back to her room for bed, Jack called after her, “That sure was a brave thing you did yesterday—donating your bone marrow like that. You’re a hero! Get some sleep tonight.”
Miss V felt a lump forming in the back of her throat as she fought back tears. She did that a lot lately, swell up with emotion and cry. It had been a tough year for her in so many ways, and she knew that her problems paled in comparison to the limitations of Jack’s life. Still, something about his tenderness and concern for the others hit her hard. She felt a little guilty for bemoaning her fate, and she swore to herself that she wouldn’t cry in front of the children. She just couldn’t. She was supposed to be there to help them—that’s what volunteers do—not melt into a puddle of tears in the middle of the playroom.
“Miss V—are you ready?” Jack interrupted her thoughts, now that he was settled in at the table.
“You betcha!” She smiled, blinking back her tears. “What color shall we paint with first?”
“Purple for the angel’s robe . . . and then maybe some blue,” he said, exercising his artistic freedom.
For the next half-hour they sat together, talking and laughing quietly, as she painted the ceramic angel and he directed her hand. Occasionally she would lift the angel into the air for his inspection, since he couldn’t move his head, and he didn’t hesitate to tell her when she had painted out of the lines or missed a spot.
“Sorry, sorry . . . I do that sometimes . . .” she said, laughing at his sudden bossiness.
“You have a beautiful smile, Miss V. You should smile all the time—“
Now it was her turn to blush. She had always been so good at looking after others, complimenting them, making them feel special, but his simple acknowledgement caught her off guard.
“Thank you, Jack. Nobody ever said a nicer thing—“
“Well I like you, Miss V. You talk to me like normal—when we’re sitting here like this—and I almost forget about my . . . condition. I swear it's the greatest gift ever!”
“You’re a good guy, Jack—wise beyond your years— and I like talking with you, too. . .” she said, clearing her throat as she blinked back more tears. “Speaking of gifts—what’s Santa going to bring you for Christmas this year?”
“Miss V,” he said, lowering his voice to a whisper so the littlest ones wouldn't hear. “Don’t you think I’m too old for Santa?”
“Well of course not, Jack!” She teased. “Santa’s all about granting wishes . . . Surely there’s something you want special this year?”
Jack got real quiet like he does when he’s thinking hard about something. Then after a time he said, “No, I don’t think so.”
“Nothing?” She asked, shaking her head in disbelief because she had never heard of a kid who didn’t want something for Christmas.
He sat quietly before he spoke. “Well, sure, there are things I want but I know I’ll never get them, so I just try not to think about it—what I don’t have.”
“What kind of things, Jack?”
“Like walking.  I would love to get up out of this chair and walk—run—as far and fast as I can. I would love to paint that angel myself. Every time I see my dog I want to throw the ball to him and rub his head—he really likes it when my brother does that. And I want to hug my mom because she always does such nice things for me. I want to shake my dad’s hand like a man . . . and play video games with my little brother.  I want to hold a book and turn the pages, one by one, as I read them. I want to go to the bathroom by myself without that guy having to help me—“ he whispered, rolling his eyes toward the orderly sitting in the corner chair. “And . . .”
“And what Jack?”
“I can’t tell you.” He whispered, a mischievous grin forming on his lips.
“Sure you can—“
“Promise you won’t laugh?”
“I promise,” she said, making a cross in the air above her heart.
“I want to kiss a girl—“ he whispered.
“That’s not funny at all, Jack. In fact, it’s one of the most natural desires in the world—“
“And I want to fall in love with her . . . and I want her to love me back.”
Overwhelmed with irony, she didn’t even try to hold back her tears for she understood his greatest loss—she felt it—the loss of freedom and choice. As for love, well, she wanted the same thing and she told him so. Sure, she had had some great boyfriends and some success in her life, but the one thing she wanted most of all—the one thing that money could not buy—was true love. She thought her heart might explode into a thousand little pieces with the longing he expressed. She knew it well. And she put down her paint brush and hugged him tight in his chair.
“We’re not so different, Jack—you and me—the heart wants what it wants.  But love is alive and well in both of us and we must never give up.”
“What do you mean, Miss V?”
“Well, you know how you talk with the other children and ask them how they’re doing—how they’re feeling?”
“Yes—“
“. . . and the way that you smile and laugh even though there are things about your life that you might want to be different?”
“Yes—“
“. . . and the way that you feel about your mom and dad and your little brother?”
“Yes—“
“Well, that is love in its purest form. It’s a bright light, Jack, and it shines in you—”
“And it shines in you too, Miss V—like the way you help the children here at the hospital. . .”
“Exactly,” she said, and they smiled at each other. “We must never let our lights go out. We must never stop loving, even if others don't love us back.”
By then, the ceramic angel was finished—nearly dry—and she pulled some ribbon through the hole at the top so that he could hang it on the tree. She held it in the air for one final inspection. They agreed—it was good.
The orderly stood and moved toward the table. “We should probably get going Jack. It’s time for your meds.”
“Wait . . .” Miss V said, pointing to the bright light coming from the window across the room. “Before you go, let’s make a wish on the Christmas star . . . what do you say, Jack?”
His eyes danced with possibility.  “Do you think wishes really can come true, Miss V?”
“Yes, Jack, I do. Maybe not exactly as we wish them, or in the timeframe that we would like for them to come true . . . and I think sometimes we may get something that we didn’t wish for but that ends up being better for us in the long run . . . but, yes—I do believe that wishes can come true . . . especially when they come from your heart . . . especially at Christmastime. After all, it's the season of magic and miracles,” she winked, and she kissed him on the cheek before bending down to unlock the brakes on his wheelchair.
Then together they moved toward the light.

By Melissa Johnson
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*This story was inspired by my little friends at Children's Hospital in Denver, Colorado.  To find out how you can make cash or in-kind donations of toys or art supplies, please visit their web site at http://www.thechildrenshospital.org/.   Happy Holidays!

1 comment:

The Claire Burns said...

Simply beautiful. Thank you.