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I suppose it should go without saying that I am a huge fan of love and would never have meant to imply with my “harsh words” that I don’t think it’s a useful and valuable thing to offer up to those in need. It most certainly is. Offer it up, please, in huge quantities, to all those who need it (which is, technically speaking, everyone). Give it freely and frequently and with abandon. It may not cure cancer or any other medical malady, but it surely is good and necessary. And I would venture to say that, while strong medicine, good doctors, and aggressive treatment — coupled with luck — saved Austin, it is love that saved the rest of us.
I’ve put that another way before which holds true still and that is this: while doctors saved Austin, nurses saved the rest of us.
Six years and three weeks ago (exactly), I sent out an email to friends and family informing them that Austin had been diagnosed with cancer. I was upbeat and hopeful, providing as many details as I could in that moment, all tinged with a misplaced sense of optimism for what we were about to endure.
My inbox was flooded almost immediately with replies conveying that same hope and optimism, all telling me that we would beat this, we were so strong, Austin was lucky to have us as parents to guide him through this, blah blah blah. Everyone meant well and I thoroughly appreciated their words, but after a while, the messages all blurred into one. Except for the singular and unblurrable response from my college friend in London, which read, “Fucking hell, Krissy, this fucking sucks.” And I laughed and I cried and I saved that message in cyber-eternity because it was the only one that captured what I was really feeling, what my heart knew but my mind couldn’t yet accept: this fucking sucked.
I have used those words many times over the past six years and three weeks . . . too many times, in fact. I have handed them over with as much kindness and comfort as I could muster to a friend whose mother was diagnosed with cancer too young. And another whose daughter was diagnosed with cancer too young. And to the friend who deserved the words most of all after her daughter was killed in a freak accident. And the woman whose husband died of a heart attack after an evening bike ride, leaving her a widow with three young children.
And then I used them yet again, just a few days ago, in a message to a woman I’ve known since Braedan was just a few months old, whose five-year-old daughter, about to start kindergarten at Fairfax, was diagnosed with a brain tumor instead.
Because, fucking hell, what else can you say to that?
I’m not going to tell you their whole story because the husband/father is doing that himself here, so eloquently I’m almost embarrassed by my own blabbering vulgarity. But not so embarrassed that I’ll stop, because if you think I’ve used harsh words before, they’re about to get harsher. I’ve been following their story pretty closely over the past week and have read through all the comments that appear on both parents’ Facebook pages. And they’re filled with hope and love and fervent fervent wishes for the best possible outcome. They are lovely and moving and raw and I’m sure bring some small but necessary bit of strength to the parents. But they are also filled with a falsehood, with a piece of conventional wisdom about illness that gets bandied about as if it’s undeniable truth and it is not.
It is this: that love will conquer all. Time and again, I have seen well-meaning people tell their downtrodden friends that their sick family members will survive because they are loved. Love will save them. Love is more powerful than anything, even, say, cancerous tumors.
I used to like this idea. I believed it and lived it myself the first time through. This was something I could do. I could love Austin back to health, that was one thing I could control. I distinctly remember strolling him outside the hospital one October night, mere weeks into our years-long journey, and thinking that my pure longing could actually save him, that my intense wanting, my unbreakable desire to keep him alive would do just that. And then I realized, with a jolt to my heart, how wrong I was.
Because they fell like dominoes around me. Those children who were nothing if not loved. Ashlie, Ariana, Emily, Seamus, Dylan, Olivia. Did I really think that if their mothers had wished a little harder, if their fathers had loved with greater intensity, if their circles of friends had prayed more frequently or more fervently, that those children would have somehow survived? That is not how it works. Love isn’t enough. It helps; it makes the long days and weeks and months more bearable and much more pleasant. But it doesn’t save lives. It would take you mere minutes with Ariana’s mother to know that her love should have saved a small country’s worth of children. She loved her daughter beyond measure. And Seamus’ parents . . . are you kidding me? There could be no bigger love for a child.
But it didn’t matter. Because it’s not love that saves. And goodness knows, it’s not lack of love that kills (nice message to send to those parents, huh: if only you’d. . . ?). It’s not a question of worth or value or who deserves what. Because every parent deserves to send her sweet child off to kindergarten healthy and whole. And every five-year-old deserves to go.
So, no, it’s way more random than love. It’s just luck. Plain old luck, good or bad. Which is way out of our control.
I had a job interview last Wednesday. For a third grade position at Boulevard. This is really good because it means the district has hired back all the previously laid off teachers and is now finally looking at outside candidates.
The interview was all going well — my experience and enthusiasm make me fairly confident about my performance for such things. Until they asked the final question: What makes you the best candidate for this position? And in the split second while I considered how to sell myself for this job, I realized that I didn’t want it, that I wouldn’t accept it if offered. I only want to teach at Fairfax. I am in the extremely fortunate position of being able to turn down anything that doesn’t perfectly meet my needs or mesh with my life. And, nothing against Boulevard or its staff or families, but if I hold out and manage to get something at Fairfax, even if it’s down the road, my kids’ lives won’t be disrupted all that much. I could go from not working at all (well, that’s a debatable description of my current situation) to working full-time without any change in childcare whatsoever. My kids could leave after me in the morning and walk to school on their own, needing only to lock the door behind them. They could go home by themselves after school if they weren’t engaged in some PTA-run activity like racquet club or tumbling class or bike club. They wouldn’t need before-care or after-care or anything outside of what Mark and I could provide ourselves.
So, I paused for a moment before saying, “I actually don’t think I am the right candidate (now THAT’s not what they tell you do to at job interviews!) because I only want to be at Fairfax.” Hmmmm, that was followed by an awkward moment. We chatted a tiny bit longer and then it was ,”Ok, thanks, goodbye and good luck . . .” I emailed later, apologizing for wasting anyone’s time and explaining myself a bit more articulately, which the principal responded to with appreciation for my honesty. And that was that.
Back to wait and see. Choosers can’t be beggars, after all.
Remember that Big Lots contest I wrote about back in June? The one that Fairfax entered in the hopes of winning big (or even little) money for a new piece of adaptive playground equipment that all our students could use together, regardless of physical ability? Well, it was the longest and most tedious contest ever, lasting an excruciating five weeks. I got so damn good at typing captchas from every device in our home that I even dreamed about them.
The contest did have an awful lot of potential prizes, ranging from the grand prize of $20,000 to thirty smaller $2,000 prizes. We were cautiously optimistic about at least winning something, although we knew we had several factors working against us. For one thing, we were competing against middle and high schools where every student likely owns their own device and could have voted independently of their parents. We also were competing against some schools that remained in session for the first week or two (or even three) of the contest, making it much easier for staff to remind students and families to continue voting, while ours were in full vacation mode. And lastly, we do exist in a community that tends to be rather polarized around school issues. Many of our residents opt for private and parochial school and, even for those public school families, we can sometimes feel divided among the seven elementary schools in our district. This is not some old-fashioned town where if you post a reminder on the town square marque to vote for your local school, every single resident is going to rush home to their device and happily begin typing.
But we were indeed optimistic, if for no other reason than that we have the best damn PTA ever. And our optimism was well warranted because we won. As in, WE WON THE WHOLE DANG THING. We had the absolute top number of votes of any of the 186 schools across the country that entered and we won a whooping $20,000! I was moved to tears when I got the call from our PTA president two weeks ago. This brings us about halfway toward our goal and will hopefully allow us to capitalize on some momentum and raise the rest of the money to install the piece by spring. Big Lots will make their public announcement this Monday and will hold a celebratory ceremony where they hand over one of those enormous checks to which everyone is invited, especially Fairfax students and their families. The event, complete with food, music, giveaways and lots of media attention, will be held on Wednesday, August 14 at 9:30 am at the Big Lots at 24295 Chagrin Blvd in Beachwood.
Thank you so much to everyone and anyone who voted. Even if you only remembered to log on and vote after being harassed on Facebook or even if those captchas drove you crazy, it was all worth it in the end. Thank you, thank you, thank you.