(I first posted this on our daughter’s cancer site in October 2002, five months after her diagnosis. Whenever fall comes around, my mind always goes back to this story–a story that reinspires me and recharges me with thanksgiving every time I read it.)
Heroes In The Hall
This past Thursday, the hospital staff where Sarah receives her treatment put together a little Halloween outing for its young patients. In preparation for this big event, Sarah donned a huge smile and a Sponge Bob outfit. She thought it was especially wonderful that she and Mr Jeff ( the pediatric oncology psychologist) were rocking the very same outfits.
She added this pink wig to her ensemble but after a few minutes decided she didn’t like it after all, since it clashed with the Sponge Bob yellow. (Girlfriend is all about her hospital/Halloween ensembles matching!)
She cheerily took off down the hall with her cancer cronies, swinging her orange bucket with great enthusiasm. There were only a few kids well enough to participate but they all seemed determined to have as much fun as a hospitalized child possibly can, as another autumn day of their childhood disappears forever outside the window.
Since the children were accompanied by various poles, medical personnel, and hovering parents, our collective pace was slower-than-a-snail’s as we moved toward the first nursing station. The slow pace worked out well, however, because it gave me a chance to walk on ahead of the group and snap a few pictures. Up until that point I had only seen the gathering from the inside but when I turned around and caught a glimpse of the group as a whole, I had to wipe away unexpected tears.
I saw a bald 3-year old ballerina who in a few hours, would be violently throwing up as her fifth round of chemo began. I saw a small boy in a wagon, too weak to walk but jauntily sporting an orange scarecrow wig. Beside him was a mom with a sad, weary face, holding tightly to the hand of a daughter she may never get to see grow into womanhood.
There were small kids hooked up to huge poles and tiny trick-or-treaters pulling oxygen carts. There were children who could barely walk and kids with enough suffering written on their faces to last a lifetime. There were also compassionate, gifted nurses who willingly risk having their hearts broken every time they come to work.
In short, when I turned around, I saw a hall full of heroes.
Although each hero’s face told a different story, I still noticed many things they had in common. I glimpsed courage and humor despite childish grief over childhoods lost. I saw smiles behind suffering and excitement behind eyes that had seen too much.
And smack dab in the middle of it all, I saw a certain bald Sponge Bob, her pale face covered with a yellow hospital mask, her wise and weary eyes eagerly peering over the rim.
This was not just any Sponge Bob, mind you. This was the Sponge Bob of my heart, perfectly at rest in the halls of suffering, perfectly at home inside her own ailing skin, perfectly at peace with the simple joy of holding up an orange bucket and a smile to a nurse and receiving a treat in exchange.
When I finished my photos and stepped back into the group, I took Sponge Bob’s hand as we walked, so very thankful for the simple joy of just getting to be with her.
After about fifteen minutes of walking with the group, Sarah’s small voice announced wearily from behind her mask, “Mommy, my steam just ran out!”
I said, “That’s okay, Sarah. I’ll just pick you up and carry you.”
And so I did.
And Sarah and I continued on with our stalwart companions on our journey through the hospital, on our journey through the valley of the shadow of death.
Some members from our little group will come out whole on the other side of the valley; others will travel on to a place where there are no tears, no cancer, no bald children, no death, and no sounds of small hearts breaking. The only sound heard in that place will be the music of children’s voices laughing and the glory of children’s voices singing.
And as for Sarah? We don’t know how much time she has. Maybe just months. Maybe years.
But at some point in the (hopefully faraway) future, Sarah “Sponge Bob” Smith will look trustingly into the face of heaven and say, “God, my steam just ran out!”
And He’ll say, “That’s okay, Sarah. I’ll just pick you up and carry you.”