I somehow thought taking Titus along to his appointments at Mayo would leave me primed for words. My intentions were grand, and I really did lean into scenes like poetry was about to happen, but every intention turned into my back flat on a bed. After days of running in boots for miles through skywalk and subway, I could feel my heart beating in my stomach and my knees. Even still Minnesota and Mayo Clinic treated us well.
Titus was a rowdy bounce of a kid who had no idea he was supposed to be sick. He would sing to the 16th floor: ”Mina Sota. Mina Sota. Mina Sota,” and he would climb into my lap as we spent hours in waiting rooms. Repeatedly, he would stand on my knees, hold my hands and then fall straight back laughing. Will you catch me or not, Mama? He laughs even as I go wild eyed. He knows I will always run to him. He only slows down when they take his blood. These are the crazy things. When you don’t know how you’ll walk another mile, you say thank you that we’re walking and we don’t know how. Turn another corner. It’s a miracle.
Once in a room of hundreds of mothers, the run-downedness, the worried hands of brothers, and daddies with messy-headed teenage daughters curled into their laps, I looked up and whispered “I’m sorry” to the sky as Titus restlessly acted like he might kick himself out of his own body for how exhausted he was. Even though the other kids were loud, all the parents heard me like I said it straight to each. One daddy peeked out from his glasses and said, “It sounds like home. Don’t worry.” There was a knowing among mothers. Sickness completely ignores cultural boundaries. It doesn’t care about your color, status, or numbers.
So what we do is take sickness like a highway to each other. We walk thereon and connect like siblings.
At Mayo, the knowledge streamed in me: God is everywhere, and He loves all his people, has pressed Himself into us all. Dare I say that His image ministered to me in repeated surprise.
Twice at the Ronald McDonald House (where we stayed the second week) I assumed that two small children were toddlers when they both actually had a rare form of dwarfism. One mother with gorgeous eyes must have been around my age, but she seemed so young. Of her skin, you could see only the face and the hands, busy in the kitchen with her father. Their food was to be halal so when others gathered at the gift of youth-group casseroles, this small family ate together upstairs in a separate kitchen. The young woman’s daughter was born with many malformations, more than I could note.
I had first seen this family when we learned about the gorgeous labrador that visits as a therapy dog. Children would schedule their chemotherapy around that big ol’ dog. Titus loved it and of course never noticed the differences between children, the tubes or wheels or shallow breath. It almost wrecked me to see the little ones in pain, and even worse to see the parents suffer in the wait. It was enough to send me running out of the room, but how could I be so ridiculous in the face of such bravery. We all laughed together instead. We touched arms. We helped the children pose with the dog. We mothers would lock eyes and say more things than a mouth could ever murmur.
This family was the different one, because of religion and land and language, but I’m not sure I’ll ever witness such kindness the way I did in that house. Even in significant difference, respect was thick. The small girl’s grandfather was handsome, head down, kind eyes always pointed away from mine, full of patriarchal pride and an active purpose.
I planned to only interact with him in passing smiles toward the floor, but the community kitchen required a certain dance to get into cabinets and drawers. The mother and I tried to speak, but it was broken. Of course Titus was completely unaware of the tongue or the shape of bones. He only knew that this little girl was what she really was, a little girl. He would go to her and talk and talk.
One evening after dinner, Titus had been blabbing to her and wanted to go play, so I looked at her and asked, “Do you want to go play with Titus?” She flung her head back with an eye roll, and her grandfather pointed a finger and told her sternly to go play. I didn’t understand the words, but I knew exactly what had happened. As she walked away I asked him, “How old is she?” He told me then that she is 12, and I let it be.
It wasn’t until the next day that I couldn’t stand myself for assuming she was a toddler. I was sweeping and looking at the pile of dirt, and I asked for his pardon. He stopped and turned his body straight toward me with such soft approach. He opened his hands to me, and said that the doctors say she is small in her mind. He told me many things that the doctors had said. I told him that there was something about her that was actually very twelve to me, and it made him smile. He called her smart.
For a moment, we stood at the broom. I asked for his forgiveness, and he asked for my ear. We exchanged gentleness. The air between was peace.
Do we not all stand on common ground of one kind or another? Is there not a pile of dirt to gather beneath all our feet?