is Thursday. I hate Thursday. Today, multitudes of parents and children
make long trips in order to arrive at this destination ... hell. It is
a crowded and noisy place. It is a place where people do not smile, a place
where pain and fear lurk around every corner. I exit the elevator on the
fourth floor, turn the far-too-familiar corner, and sit in the uncomfortable
chair. People are all around me, yet I am alone. Although my journey has
just begun for today, it is not an unfamiliar one. I have been here many
times before. Twenty-one grooves in each tile. I have counted them often.
I settle myself in my chair because I know it may be some time before my
name is called. Suddenly, I hear a strange sound. It is a laugh. I can
hardly believe it, for no one laughs on Thursday. Thursday is chemo day
I scan the crowded reception area, looking for the source of the laughter. I note child after child, parent after parent. They all look the same - tired and frightened. I am certain each is thinking the same thought: Why is the treatment worse than the disease? My eyes lock on one particular mother who is holding her baby, a boy of about eight months. The laugh is his. He is bouncing on his mother’s knee. It is obvious this is the child’s favorite game. The mother’s face is one big smile. She relishes the brief moments of happiness in her son’s short life. She realizes it may be a while before he has the strength to smile again. He, too, has been chosen to suffer an unfair and uncertain fate. My eyes fill with tears.
I shift in my seat to get a better view of the baby. I stare at his small, bald head. Baldness is not unusual in an infant, but I know why he is hairless. Suddenly I become angry with myself. I despise it when people stare at me; however, here I am sharing the stares I abhor.
I shift my weight once again and sink more deeply into the groove of my chair. A rush of emotions - anger, fear, sadness, pity - surge through me. I remain deeply engrossed in my thoughts for a long time. A booming voice interrupts my reverie. It is the nurse summoning mother and baby into hell. Simultaneously the bouncing and laughing cease. The mother picks up her son. As they walk past me, I look at the baby once more. He is completely calm. His eyes are bright and there is an expression of complete trust on his tiny face. I know that I will never forget that expression.
This is but one of many Thursdays. However, on this particular Thursday, many months into a seemingly endless series of treatments, I learned a lesson from a little baby. He changed my life. He taught me that anger, tears and sadness are only for those who have given up. He also taught me to trust. This I will carry with me always. Today, my little hero is doing fine. His last treatment is in sight and his future looks bright. I can honestly say that I am a little surprised. That bright-eyed baby appeared so pale and sick that day. However, that was before I learned to trust.
Everyone, some sooner than others, must endure his or her own personal "hell on earth." It is important to keep searching for the small joys, although they are sometimes the most elusive. Trust that these joys will appear, sometimes unexpectedly, and often in life’s darkest moments ... for instance, in the smile on a baby’s face.
The Most Caring Child
Author and lecturer Leo Buscaglia once talked about a contest he was asked to judge. The purpose of the contest was to find the most caring child. The winner was a four-year-old child whose next-door neighbor was an elderly gentleman who had recently lost his wife. Upon seeing the man cry, the little boy went into the old gentleman's yard, climbed onto his lap, and just sat there. When his mother asked him what he had said to the neighbor, the little boy said, "Nothing, I just helped him cry."
What's Really Important
A few years
ago at the Seattle Special Olympics, nine contestants, all physically or
mentally disabled, assembled at the starting line for the 1OO yard dash.
At the gun they all started out, not exactly in a dash, but with the relish
to run the race to the finish and win.
All, that is, except one boy who stumbled on the asphalt, tumbled over a couple of times, and began to cry. The other eight heard the boy cry. They slowed down and paused. Then they all turned around and went back. Every one of them. One girl with Down's syndrome bent down and kissed him and said, "This will make it better." Then all nine linked arms and walked together to the finish line.
Everyone in the stadium stood and the cheering went on for ten minutes.
"Watch out! You nearly broad sided that car," my father yelled at me. "Can't you do anything right?" Those words hurt worse than blows. I turned my head toward the elderly man in the seat beside me,daring me to challenge him. A lump rose in my throat as I averted my eyes. I wasn't prepared for another battle.
"I saw the car, Dad. Please don't yell at me when I'm driving." My voice was measured and steady, sounding far calmer than I really felt. Dad glared at me, then turned away and settled back.
At home I left Dad in front of the television and went outside to collect my thoughts. Dark, heavy clouds hung in the air with a promise of rain. The rumble of distant thunder seemed to echo my inner turmoil. What could I do about him?
Dad had been a lumberjack in Washington and Oregon. He had enjoyed being outdoors and had reveled in pitting his strength against the forces of nature. He had entered grueling lumberjack competitions, and had placed often. The shelves in his house were filled with trophies that attested to his prowess.
The years marched on relentlessly. The first time he couldn't lift a heavy log, he joked about it; but later that same day I saw him outside alone, straining to lift it. He became irritable whenever anyone teased him about his advancing age, or when he couldn't do something he had done as a younger man.
Four days after his sixty-seventh birthday, he had a heart attack. An ambulance sped him to the hospital while a paramedic administered CPR to keep blood and oxygen flowing. At the hospital, Dad was rushed into an operating room. He was lucky; he survived.
But something inside Dad died. His zest for life was gone. He obstinately refused to follow doctor's orders. Suggestions and offers of help were turned aside with sarcasm and insults. The number of visitors thinned, then finally stopped altogether. Dad was left alone.
My husband, Dick, and I asked Dad to come live with us on our small farm. We hoped the fresh air and rustic atmosphere would help him adjust. Within a week after he moved in, I regretted the invitation. It seemed nothing was satisfactory. He criticized everything I did. I became frustrated and moody. Soon I was taking my pent-up anger out on Dick. We began to bicker and argue. Alarmed, Dick sought out our pastor and explained the situation. The clergyman set up weekly counseling appointments for us. At the close of each session he prayed, asking God to soothe Dad's troubled mind. But the months wore on and God was silent.
A raindrop struck my cheek. I looked up into the gray sky. Somewhere up there was "God." Although I believe a Supreme Being had created the universe, I had difficulty believing that God cared about the tiny human being on this earth. I was tired of waiting for a God who didn't answer. Something had to be done and it was up to me to do it.
The next day I sat down with the phone book and methodically called each of the mental health clinics listed in the Yellow Pages. I explained my problem to each of the sympathetic voices that answered. In vain. Just when I was giving up hope, one of the voices suddenly exclaimed, "I just read something that might help you! Let me go get the article." I listened as she read. The article described a remarkable study done at a nursing home. All of the patients were under treatment for chronic depression. Yet their attitudes had improved dramatically when they were given responsibility for a dog.
I drove to the animal shelter that afternoon. After I filled out a questionnaire, a uniformed officer led me to the kennels. The odor of disinfectant stung my nostrils as I moved down the row of pens. Each contained five to seven dogs.
Long-haired dogs,curly-haired dogs, black dogs, spotted dogs–all jumped up, trying to reach me. I studied each one but rejected one after the other for various reasons – too big, too small, too much hair. As I neared the last pen a dog in the shadows of the far corner struggled to his feet, walked to the front of the run and sat down. It was a Pointer, one of the dog world's aristocrats. But this was a caricature of the breed. Years had etched his face and muzzle with shades of gray. His hipbones jutted out in lopsided triangles. But it was his eyes that caught and held my attention. Calm and clear, they beheld me unwaveringly.
I pointed to the dog. "Can you tell me about him?" The officer looked, then shook his head in puzzlement. "He's a funny one. Appeared out of nowhere and sat in front of the gate. We brought him in, figuring someone would be right down to claim him. That was two weeks ago and we've heard nothing. His time is up tomorrow." He gestured helplessly. As the words sank in I turned to the man in horror. "You mean you're going to kill him?" "Ma'am," he said gently, "that's our policy. We don't have room for every unclaimed dog." I looked at the Pointer again. The calm brown eyes awaited my decision."I'll take him," I said.
I drove home with the dog on the front seat beside me. When I reached the house I honked the horn twice. I was helping my prize out of the car when Dad shuffled onto the front porch. "Ta-da! Look what I got for you, Dad!" I said excitedly. Dad looked, then wrinkled his face in disgust. "If I had wanted a dog I would have gotten one. And I would have picked out a better specimen than that bag of bones. Keep it! I don't want it." Dad waved his arm scornfully and turned back toward the house.
Anger rose inside me. It squeezed together my throat muscles and pounded into my temples. "You'd better get used to him, Dad. He's staying!" Dad ignored me. "Did you hear me, Dad?" I screamed. At those words Dad whirled angrily, his hands clenched at his sides, his eyes narrowed and blazing with hate.
We stood glaring at each other like duelists, when suddenly the Pointer pulled free from my grasp. He wobbled toward my dad and sat down in front of him. Then slowly, carefully, he raised his paw. Dad's lower jaw trembled as he stared at the uplifted paw. Confusion replaced the anger in his eyes. The Pointer waited patiently. Then Dad was on his knees hugging the animal.
It was the beginning of a warm and intimate friendship. Dad named the Pointer 'Cheyenne.' Together he and Cheyenne explored the community. They spent long hours walking down dusty lanes They spent reflective moments on the banks of streams, angling for tasty trout. They even started to attend Sunday services together, Dad sitting in a pew and Cheyenne lying quietly at his feet.
Dad and Cheyenne were inseparable throughout the next three years. Dad's bitterness faded, and he and Cheyenne made many friends. Then late one night I was startled to feel Cheyenne's cold nose burrowing through our bed covers. He had never before come into our bedroom at night. I woke Dick, put on my robe and ran into my father's room. Dad lay in his bed, his face serene. But his spirit had left quietly sometime during the night.
Two days later my shock and grief deepened when I discovered Cheyenne lying dead beside Dad's bed. I wrapped his still form in the rag rug he had slept on. As Dick and I buried him near a favorite fishing hole, I silently thanked the dog for the help he had given me in restoring Dad's peace of mind.
The morning of Dad's funeral dawned overcast and dreary. This day looks like the way I feel, I thought, as I walked down the aisle to the pews reserved for family. I was surprised to see the many friends Dad and Cheyenne had made filling the church. The pastor began his eulogy. It was a tribute to both Dad and the dog who had changed his life. And then the pastor turned to Hebrews 13:2. "Be not forgetful to entertain strangers." I've often thanked God for sending that angel," he said.
For me, the past dropped into place, completing a puzzle that I had not seen before: the sympathetic voice that had just read the right article ... Cheyenne's unexpected appearance at the animal shelter ... his calm acceptance and complete devotion to my father ... and the proximity of their deaths. And suddenly I understood. I knew that God had answered my prayers after all.
The question is asked, "Is there anything more beautiful in life than a boy and a girl clasping clean hands and pure hearts in the path of marriage? Can there be anything more beautiful than young love?"
And the answer is given. "Yes, there is a more beautiful thing. It is the spectacle of an old man and an old woman finishing their journey together on that path. Their hands are gnarled, but still clasped; their faces are seamed, but still radiant; their hearts are physically bowed and tired, but still strong with love and devotion for one another. Yes, there is a more beautiful thing than young love. Old love."
"A 5th Portion of Chicken Soup for the Soul"