I used to volunteer for this organization which cared for children afflicted with cancer. And, out of all the children I cared for, Agnes was the one who I remember the most. I remember the first time I met her – she had a fishing hat on to cover her head, which had just been shaved that day. She also had a terrible temper that day because of the headaches.
I saw her again a week later, this time bright-eyed and friendly, smiling and nodding as John, another volunteer, promised to bring her chocolates the following week. That day, we colored a cat black and a doll red with the fat crayons they had in the ward. She was very particular about coloring everything the right way, proudly showing off how skilled she was at coloring within the lines.
The following week, Agnes’ lymphoma had spread from her stomach to her eye so that her left one was rendered immobile and lifeless. She was still bed-ridden, but was now crying, her voice mixed with phlegm and pain and tears, because of the pain.
Agnes died the following week.
To this day, I remember the first time I truly realized Agnes was dying. It was when I saw that dead eye of hers for the very first time. Agnes had just undergone her chemotherapy, and so, after a few moments of talking with us, she fell sound asleep. So John and I decided to leave. But before leaving, John passed by the foot of Agnes’ bed, and, in a quiet tone, to a sleeping Agnes, said that we had to go, but we’d be back next time, and that he hoped she’d enjoy the chocolates he had left for her.
She didn’t hear him. And John knew that. But still, he passed by, and, in a quiet tone, to someone totally oblivious to him, promised to be back next time.
And that, I guess, is what it was all about. The children we saw went through horrendous experiences every single day of their lives. For all the advances in medicine, they still experienced intense physical pain (one I don’t even have an inkling of the magnitude of). They went through life and death, the actual condemnment to a trial of pain and uncertainty and waiting, every short day of their lives.
But John knows a secret, one that will always answer this despair: As the children went through their hardships, us being the farthest thing from their minds, we still went there, just in case. We wanted to be there in case the children wanted to eat their chocolates or color the cats black or dolls red. It is the secret of a love that says that what is important is not that I am present to you, but that you are present to and in me; It is a love that is in spite of, for a person who has become a part of.
For it is through this type of love that hope becomes real. And it is through this type of love that one remains alive to you forever and ever.
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