I had coffee with some friends this morning, and I’m pretty sure I had one of those annoyingly poignant Oprah moments. One guy was joking around, saying that while he was changing his 2 year old’s diaper, he kept thinking “Damn. I was meant for grander purposes than changing this kid’s filth! Why do I have to do this?” Everyone laughed except me.
You see, I spent last Thursday at the Miller Children’s Hospital in Long Beach, handing out baby blankets to parents of infants in the NICU, toddlers on oxygen and pre-teens with feeding tubes. As one of the numerous perks of my crazy career, I was invited to drive a race car (an insanely fun experience, of course) in the Toyota Pro-Celebrity Grand Prix of Long Beach, which raised tens of thousands of dollars for the Miller Children’s Hospital. Before the race, all of the celebrity drivers visited the hospital, signed fan photos and did a little “meet and greet” for the afternoon. We gathered in the lobby of the hospital and were briefed on the protocol for our visit. Most importantly, we were told, NEVER ask a patient why they are there or when they are going home. The unspoken reality was that some of these kids will never go home.
We walked through the hospital floors — me, a Jonas brother, a UFC fighter, and our motley crew of celebs — pulling red wagons full of toys and books and blankets, smiling and laughing and joking around. We put on a good show, but the whole time, my heart was in my throat. I sang songs, made crazy faces, put on a Tinkerbell costume in the play area, and tried not to notice the IV stands, the wheelchairs and the yellow hospital bracelets. It just wouldn’t compute. (These kids couldn’t be sick, could they? My God, they’re just CHILDREN.) I looked into the face of a 20 month old girl, Alyssa, who had both Down Syndrome and leukemia, and saw pure joy. Her mother was so proud of how affectionate her daugher was, with her incredible energy and brilliant smile. As I held Alyssa, she patted my face and stared into my eyes and just radiated happiness. There was NO WAY this girl could be sick. I didn’t want to let myself believe it, because I couldn’t handle it — Alyssa was handling it just fine.
Spending the afternoon with those patients and their families brought home to me the importance of remembering to say THANK YOU to God, the Universe, or whatever greater power you find out there. So for this week, I’ve changed my vocabulary. I GET TO exercise today. I GET TO feed my dog. I GET TO weed the garden. I GET TO do my laundry. I GET TO wipe my daughter’s nose and clean off the skinned knee she got learning to climb the Japanese maple tree in our front yard. My kid is climbing a tree. She’s dressing herself and making up knock-knock jokes for the Easter Bunny and she is healthy. For every moment of this life of mine, I am so grateful.