I have had a terrible time writing the Mighty prompt this month. Write a note to a stranger who showed incredible love.
It isn't that I cannot think of an example. I started and stopped six separate letters, and that was the narrowed down list. The man who didn't speak any English who helped me when I couldn't get the brand new wheelchair put together in an airport drop-off. The other NICU mom who hugged me right after I got the worst possible news. The surgeon who accidentally gave me the confidence to make the right choice for my kid. The nurse who gave me permission to be a mom in an ICU. The hospital worker who said just the right thing when I was depressed and lonely. The mom who helped me get home from a disastrous trip to the park.
There are so many letters to write. I realized my struggle was with the word stranger. None of these people felt like strangers. Or if they did, they didn't stay strangers. When it begins to feel like the world is collapsing, you see who is holding it up and it is not a predictable list. When you suddenly realize you need help, who will notice? Will they step up? The world is full of quiet heroes.
I was talking to a friend about my difficulty. Her beautiful young daughter is a tough cancer fighting kids. She has one of those light-up-the-world smiles which break your heart. It isn't a fight anyone should have to face, least of all these little ones.
We've been friends since before either of us had kids, but we bonded in a new way over our medically complicated daughters. We've both spent long weeks at the bedside, worrying, hoping and praying for our kids. We both have other children, which tears our hearts. There is not right place to be when you have a sick kid in the hospital and a worried well kid at home. We both did a crash course in medical jargon, so we don't have to translate when we are talking to each other. Apert syndrome and cancer are not similar, but hospitals and fears are.
Stephanie said, "I mean, it creates bonds with people you never would have known and makes them feel large parts of our lives."
In some ways, the world is smaller. There are real limitations and lost friendships and connections. But, in some very real ways, the world is so much bigger. You feel connected with people you barely know. You are connected with people you barely know. And not just other parents.
When Sarah was born she spent three months in the NICU. For about a week, the hospital seemed like a maze. Where do I find food? Where do I find coffee? Where do I find anything? Despite this, or maybe because of it, I was never actually lost. Every time I left Sarah's room, someone would ask if I knew where I was going. I wouldn't, of course, so they would escort me. It was an interesting phenomena. There was always someone. A doctor, a nurse, a receptionist, an aide, a tech, a janitor, another parent- no matter who it was, they'd offer to take me across the hospital to my destination. I puzzled about it then. I am an optimist. I believe the world is full of wonderful people with few real exceptions. This experience reinforced that, but it also puzzled me. My optimistic worldview would not have been shaken if they had simply given me directions. I'd have gotten lost, but I still would have been grateful for the favor. These are very busy people in a very busy hospital!
A few weeks in, I knew my way around. I was on my way walking briskly and confidently toward the cafeteria when I saw a woman who looked confused. I asked where she was trying to go, and I escorted her there. It did not occur to me to give her directions or to ignore her. I did not think anything at all of it until she offered her profuse gratitude. I realized, that this hospital had successfully built a culture where helpfulness is expected. It is just what is done.
Parenting a kid who is fighting a medical battle submerses you into an unfamiliar world. It is difficult. You might expect it to be unhappy, but it isn't. It is a strange world where it is hard to find strangers. You meet people and enter into their lives. Fast connections are formed and they are real.
We know that kindness matters. Small things can be huge things. We know that a smile from a stranger is sometimes all you need to stay positive. And we know that love and kindness and helpfulness brew healing. We know that the unseen, immeasurable things can be just as important as the measurable things. We know that the medical fights happen right alongside the psychological ones, and choosing one can mean losing the other. We know.
I decided to finish the letters. All of them.