I volunteer at a local hospital once a week. I’ve been doing this since we moved to Miami Beach more than eight years ago. Normally I play with kids who have cancer. They play like any other kid, but usually they can’t get out of their beds because of all of the tubes and fluids going in and out. Usually I work with my friend Melissa. We think alike.
We bring our own toys because the teenage volunteers seemingly can’t take in the rules when the rules are explained to them. They leave pieces of the games behind. Sorry with two blue men and one yellow man; Chutes and Ladders with no spinner; Candyland without a board; Operation with three little white pieces instead of sixteen; Four in a Row with only a few of the of the segments that make the frame and perhaps half of the pieces. You see the pattern.
Melissa and I have a favorite donation. A wonderful group of ladies gets together and sews soft white pillows to donate. We bring permanent paint markers, which the children use to decorate the pillows for themselves or for their grandmothers or another loved one. The kids love this the best, of all that we can offer them. They make glorious things. They make creative pictures of which only a child can conceive. When they’re finished with their pillows, their parents will usually add the child’s name and a date. I once had a boy who spent almost three hours filling in the entire pillow with the red permanent paint pen. He wanted a red pillow.
This week Melissa and I went into the cancer ward, and there was a lady in a chair in the hall. She was rocking back and forth and back and forth at the edge of the chair. She was keening. Her wailing was like that of an infant who cries so hard she can’t catch her breath and fights for air in gulps. Her eyes were damp and open. She didn’t see who or what was near her. She could only see what was in her head. She saw and heard her child’s doctor saying the words that she could not bear to hear. She heard the words over and over and she rocked and she rocked and she keened and she was sightless.
In eight years I have seen many troubling things. But this image, and the sound of her keening and the futile, condemned look in her eyes will haunt me for the rest of my life.