I’ve been going to the hospital recently, to visit a friend.
She went in twelve days ago with septic arthritis, a potentially-life threatening bacterial infection in her shoulder bone. Over the past two weeks she has had three operations: twice to wash out the infection and once to install a pic line that feeds antibiotics directly into a central vein in her arm. She has had countless blood tests, x-rays and MRIs. My friend is twelve years old, and she is one of the kindest and bravest people I know.
It has been extraordinary to visit her.
The first night I came, I picked up some pizza for her and her mother for dinner. (Because hospital food is not your friend). My friend was exhausted, hungry and in pain, but as the pizza sat in its box on her lap, all ready to eat, she looked up at another visitor standing by her bed and said, “Would you like a piece?” Before she ate a single bite, my friend made sure we were all fine—Did we want a bite? Did we need food? Did we have something to eat? And afterwards, she thanked and thanked me for bringing the pizza.
The next time I visited, I brought some red, green and white paper so she could make Christmas paper chains for her hospital space. She sat with her scissors, determined to do the cutting and taping herself, and then she said to me, ‘What would you like to do?’
I said, ‘How about I try and make snowflakes?’
We sat cutting paper, two companions, chatting, laughing. Multiple times I forgot to pass over the scissors—every time, she sat patiently waiting for me to finish, just watching me with her quiet eyes. When I realised I was being a scissor hog, I passed them over, apologising. Every time, she laughed.
Yesterday, I came by and she had decorated her space with stars—red and green, hung with brown string. The whole room—walls covered in photos and cards, tables hung with stars and paper chains—was alive with colour. We made a candy cane decoration for her IV pole, and then more snowflakes…and just being there, inside the love, the peace, the quiet, was like being inside a picture. It felt like floating.
At some point, we heard a bustle outside, and there was Santa Claus, coming to visit! He was the real deal; he had a white beard you couldn’t pull off. (The best kind of Santa.) He came bearing a full bag of gifts just for my friend. She couldn’t believe her eyes.
Her favourite gift was a charm bracelet kit; inside the box were over a dozen tiny colourful charms, and two bracelet chains. My friend took a break from decorating to make a bracelet, filling it with fruit charms. I peered over at the box and said, ‘Oh! I like the peace sign. And I love the umbrella, because I love the rain.’ Then I got back to chatting and laughing and crafting and being with two people I love, my friend and her mum.
When I went to leave, just like that, my friend gave me a bracelet. It was filled with the things I’d pointed out in the kit and other things she thought I would like. She only had two bracelets. One went to me.
I don’t know how to explain that moment, how it felt. Kindness, when it is offered to you, holds you. It makes sorrow fall away; it moves inside you like a pulse. It reminds you that you are loved. And this gift came from a girl in a hospital bed.
There are moments in life that spangle—they reach out like points of light to touch other points in the past. They turn moments you are living and have lived into a bright web of now and then, connected like charms on a chain.
Picture all those star patterns—people stand in open fields or in back yards with children; they point and say, ‘Look! There is the Big Dipper! There’s Orion’s Belt. And there, do you see him? Aquarius, the water bearer, with his vase tipping.’
Look up. Look all around. Here are stories, touching and suspended.
Because here is the other thing that has happened to me, in this time of hospital visits to my friend, with summer spilling in and the days slowing down. Over and over again, I have spun back in time to a year ago, to a week of hospital visits—beginning the moment my friend Anna was diagnosed with terminal cancer and ending the day she died, a week later.
In this same hospital, at the beginning of a sleepy summer, my friend Anna lay in a bed exactly like my young friend’s bed. And I drove to the same carpark and walked the same halls to find her, and I sat beside her and we talked about colour and light and beauty. And on her walls sat pictures and there were flowers and fruit on the bedside table. In this very same hospital, we laughed. And love—great, wordless love—sat with us, glowing.
Three days ago, I stood by a window in my friend’s hospital room at sunset and watched the colours slip over the hills. And I thought of Anna, who stood by her hospital window at sunset, saying goodbye, just a few hours before she died.
And today, this morning, I thought of the last dinner Anna had, the day before she died, surrounded by family and dear friends. Before she took a single bite, Anna glanced around at all the food, looked at me and said, ‘Is there something you can eat?’
Two beautiful people. Two hospital beds. Two quiet, bright pairs of eyes. And so much kindness you can hardly breathe, remembering..
All week, I have been in two rooms at once. The one with my young friend—with all her colours and her kindness—and in the room with Anna, with all her colours and kindness, different but the same.
I have felt and watched two points of light, touching.
There are people in life who carry light inside them. They make the moments we cherish, the ones we pin to the sky and turn into stories. My friend in her bed: she will be home soon, with a scar she will be able to tell fantastic tales about. And Anna, who didn’t come home, but is everywhere, still spinning, still touching.
Look up. Look around.
Here she is.
Here we are. Do you see?