We have a short window of time from the point we meet someone to make an impression on them.
Think about it. It happens all the time. You pass by countless people, on line, in the grocery store, the receptionist at the doctor’s office… And often, within moments you either remember a rude interaction, or you forget that they even existed. The brain has to protect itself to some extent. We can’t remember everyone.
But then there are some people you can’t forget.
I met her in the jewelry store a few months back. I was buying a bracelet for my girl on a particularly tough day. We struck up an easy conversation. She was young, bright, and articulate. She was friendly. She asked about my daughter and I shared. I explained Cowden’s Syndrome and some of our most recent endeavors. Then she nonchalantly told me she was a cancer survivor. Melanoma she told me. She was 22. She told me she planned to be a teacher. I imagine she will be a great one when it’s time. At some point I brought up our trip to Disney, and how it might be time to take a break, and save some money. She told me – wise beyond her years – that the bills will always be there. Go. Enjoy.
Wednesday night I went into the jewelry store again. I struck up an easy conversation with another employee. I wanted to get a necklace repaired for Meghan. It had a “hope” ribbon and a spoon. She asked about it and I explained again about Cowden’s Syndrome, and the Spoon Theory. When she brought me the necklace she wouldn’t take any money. Instead, she offered me a “pay it forward” opportunity. She showed me a “gofundme” page on her iphone. She explained that this young girl, now 24, was battling stage 4 malignant melanoma, and if I felt so inclined, I could contribute there.
My heart began to race. I recognized this girl. She was the one, the cancer survivor who had helped me months prior. I asked a million questions, rapid fire. The kind woman answered them. I was stunned. A melanoma survivor, she found a lump a few months ago, which led to a CT and PET scan, and the determination that the melanoma had spread. There will be treatment. She is tough. She will fight.
24 years old.
My sister is 25. My brother is 25. My cousins are right about that age. They are all at various points of setting up their lives, not fighting for them.
She could have been anyone. This girl in the jewelry store. But she was dynamic. Because apparently that is who she is. She is the person that sticks with you.
And if you are so inclined, do what you can to help.
That is a conversation Meghan and I have all the time.
Life is not easy. It is often unfair. Frequently she feels like crap, and always she seems to hurt.
Yet, I tell her all the time, you have a short window where people will make a judgement about you. It’s not fair either, but it’s true.
And when you live your life chronically ill and/or in pain, you may sometimes feel like you have to lie.
But I am helping her find the balance. Ways that she can still be honest about what she’s going through, and say what she means, with an upbeat delivery.
Meghan has been blessed with a beautiful elementary school experience that spanned 6 years and 2 schools. And although we elected to change schools at the very end of fourth grade, she can reflect and see the positive experiences gained in both places. It seems everything happened as it should.
And in third grade, one of the roughest years of her life, she was met with one of the most compassionate women I will ever know. A gifted teacher who cared so much more about the child than the curriculum. And this year, when there was loss, deep loss, and surgery, and more major struggles there were several excellent women in her path as educators, and sources of strength. And again, there was one with a sick child of her own, who just “got it” from the beginning. My gratitude knows no limits.
Today we sat for a beautiful moving up ceremony. Everything was perfect. The length and content of the ceremony carried out through the careful precision of true professionals. The children were calm and well-behaved. Everything was smooth. They all made it look easy, but I know all too well that its not.
Thirty years ago I walked across that same stage. Today a lot of things came full circle, and after 17 plus years of teaching in my school, I sat in the seat of a parent, and I could not have been more proud.
She received two medals for school service, and she was beaming. Then they called her name for the “Portrait in Courage” Award. And the tears flowed. Mine – not hers. So touched by the time it took to match my child with an award that was a perfect fit.
See I always knew she had courage. And I think most people who meet her would never deny it. But lately, struggling with the pain, there have been some dark days.
So we talk alot. And I hope and pray that my words get through.
I tell her what a gift she has, that people view her has positive, and courageous. I tell her that just because I happened to agree doesn’t mean the responsibility ends there. When people view you this way, they look to you. They feed off of your energy. You inspire them to be better people.
It doesn’t mean you have to be positive all the time, because we all have our days – but it means most of your work has to be upbeat.
Today she hurt. As she always does. And I could see it. But she never said it. Tonight I felt her knee, and that all too familiar pulsing seems to be finding its way back. She asks me not to hug her. Especially in the morning – because my touch hurts. There are dark circles under her eyes. But we went out all day today, as a family. And she was amazing.
She held that plaque in her purse. She wore her medals. She smiled. She looked people in the eye. She spoke. She lit up rooms.
Danielle, from the beginning of my story, has never met Meghan. Yet to me there are so many similarities. I told Meghan all about her. She gets it. She gets a lot of things. And as I struggle to help her find the gentle balance at 10 years old, of being positive and honest – I see role models for her in our small community.
“Portrait of Courage” indeed. As her teacher said, she has endured more in her first decade of life than most, and is a force to be reckoned with.
For Meghan, for Danielle, and for the others who we cross paths with every day – you inspire. You lead by example. You ARE changing the world.