I think it’s significant that experiences like these can leave such an impression on us. They don’t happen often, but when they do, they’re reminders that we’re all sort of connected, something that’s easy to forget in our crazy and stressful world. Many of our interactions with others in our day to day lives are superficial, guarded, and sometimes even hostile.
It started me thinking about a similar experience I had. It was with someone I already knew, but not very well. When my daughter was seven, she was in her second relapse with leukemia, and we travelled to Minnesota so that she could participate in a clinical trial. We stayed in a Ronald McDonald House with several other families, one couple whom we already knew from Las Vegas. Their teenage son’s options had also been exhausted, and they were visiting the same clinic for treatments.
I don’t remember how it came about, but I needed to get to a pharmacy for a prescription for my daughter, and we didn’t have a vehicle yet. My parents were in the process of making the long drive from Las Vegas to Minneapolis to bring our car to us. The father of the teenage boy, I’ll call him John, offered to take me to the pharmacy since they had a vehicle.
Neither of us was familiar with the area, but you wouldn’t think it would be that difficult to find a pharmacy. However, it seemed like we drove around at least twenty minutes before we finally located one. I was already so grateful that he was willing to do all that driving just to help me out. Afterwards, we stopped at a diner to eat.
I've forgotten the exact details of our conversation that night, but I will never forget the evening I spent a few hours with someone I barely knew, sharing our fears, frustrations, and agonies of having a child with cancer. We talked about our beliefs, and what this nightmare had done to them. We discussed the challenges of staying positive for our children. During that meal, it was almost as if everything else fell away, and we were just two weary souls sharing our pain, taking comfort in the fact that the other knew exactly where we were coming from.
John’s son passed away on his sixteenth birthday, later that month. Cancer stole my daughter seven months later.
I was saddened to learn that John died a couple of years ago. Despite the heartbreaking time our kinship took place, I will forever remember that night. It was an encounter of openness and true understanding, and I consider it one of the biggest gifts of my life. I think that’s why we treasure such moments; it’s then we’re reminded we really aren’t alone. It’s easy to fall into the belief that we’re all separate, but everyday we’re surrounded by those who share the same joys, fears, celebrations, and loss.
It sounds a little corny, but when I look back on that night, I feel like John was a long lost friend sent to me at a time I needed one most.
I hope I was the same for him.