It was my senior year in high school, I was running some kind of errand for a teacher when I came upon a teacher I liked in the hallway.
She stopped me and asked me how I was doing. Was anything going on with me? She seemed fairly concerned for some reason. Taking a deep breath, I decided to tell her the one thing I rarely spoke about with anyone. Well, um, my kidneys are failing. Some time soon I will have to go on dialysis or have a transplant. We’re not sure when, but…
She looked a little surprised and then took her own deep breath, reached out, patted my shoulder and said some encouraging words.
The next day in her class, she asked for volunteers to move books to another room. Of course I volunteered. I’d rather move books than sit in class. Du-uh. She looked at me and said, “No, you’re too weak to carry books.”
What?! No, I’m not. Why is she saying that?
For about a month after that, she daily made some comment about how sickly or weak I was. Daily.
Now, we all have our ways of dealing with information we don’t like to hear, but her way wasn’t terribly encouraging for me. It had never occurred to me that I shouldn’t do any particular thing. She was the first person to tell me I couldn’t because of my health.
The next time someone told me I couldn’t, it was a little more serious. During Thanksgiving break my freshman year of college, my doctor told me I was too sick to go back to finish the semester. I thought he had lost his mind. There were three weeks left to go and there was no way I was going to sit at home and wait for my kidneys to fail. No. Way.
I’m going back, I defiantly told him.
He was not happy with me. His little Irish face scrunched up and turned bright red. I thought I was about to see steam come out of his ears, but he agreed to “let” me go back on several conditions. I happily left his office.
I sometimes wonder where I got that kind of moxie in the face of a serious chronic illness. Then I think of my parents. They never put restraints on me because of my health. Now that I’m a parent I wonder how they did that. I’m not so sure I could be that strong and may I never find out.
If mom and dad were ever anxious about my circumstances, I only caught very rare, brief glimpses of it—like the time I fainted and my dad had to catch me. They never burdened me with their worry about what would, could, might maybe happen to me. They let me live. They let me choose. It was up to me and me alone to say I can’t do this. It is by far one of the greatest gifts ever given to me.
It was definitely easier for me to face illness as a kid than to even think about the possibility of going through something like that again now. Experience tells me that adults worry a great deal more about life and circumstances and consequences and what ifs and the big questions than it would occur to most kids to even consider.
I remember a nurse who, after explaining the whole transplant process to me, got upset with me because I didn’t have any questions for her. She thought maybe I was afraid to ask or was being controlled somehow. I thought it was a little insulting she would insinuate those things and that somehow I didn’t comprehend the information. I curtly told her I heard every word she said and asked her what she thought I didn’t understand about what she had told me.
In hindsight, I think she was probably used to talking to adults who asked lots of questions because of responsibilities, like family and work. I didn’t have that, I had parents who took care of all that. So even if I was dumb as dirt and didn’t understand, that’s what my parents were for, right? They were going to get the same scoop and ask all the questions. Why should I worry about it?
I wonder if this is maybe a part of what Jesus meant when he said we need to become like children? That attitude of I know I’m about to go through it, but I’m good, my Father’s got it. Why should I worry about it? To live in the freedom that our Father has wonderfully given us and not listen to those who say we can’t because of whatever. And to live with a belief that all things are possible just because they are.