Sarah R. Callender


In General on October 17, 2011 at 6:18 am

A small but pertinent announcement: next month I am turning 50!

(Actually, that’s a lie. I’m turning 40. BUT I have realized if I lie and tell people I am ten years older than I am, they will say things like, “Holy schmokes, you look fantastic!” Or, “Wow! What’s your secret?!?” Or, “Jeepers, I hope I’ll look that good when I’m your age!” And that makes me feel cheerful and firm-bodied and smooth-skinned. So for the sake of this post, I’m going to pretend I’m turning 50. You can either go with it or do some simple math. Now, back to my point . . .)

It’s only in the past few months that I have started understanding my mortality in ways that I didn’t during my previous 49 years of life. There must be something about the looming Big 5-0 that’s got me appreciating the fact that mortality is real and inescapable. That my time here could be more (perhaps way more) than half-over.

I don’t know how I didn’t see it before, but I suppose that’s one of the great things about being young. Most American kids don’t spend much time considering their own mortality.

American kids drive too fast and do daredevil stunts and some of even do what my friend, Chris, did when he was eleven: tried to BMX himself down a steep driveway, off a four-foot ramp, and over a huge culvert. Instead, he launched his tenders right into the handlebar post of his bike. Or Chris, (the same Chris) who had bike races on the rooftop of his elementary school. Or Nathan, a kid at my school, who liked to brew things that said “Flammable” on the label, then hold a flame to the potion. Or Joe, the kid who attempted the “will an umbrella function as a parachute if I jump off the roof?” trick.

On the other hand, I bet cave man kids were quite aware of their own mortality. That they understood a game of Duck, Duck, T-Rex could go terribly awry with no warning. Likewise, I bet kids who live in Afghanistan or Somalia or Palestine, kids who deal with hunger and war every day, understand their own mortality,  certainly far better than the average American kid.

Unless that American kid has one of those nasty, horrible, heartbreaking illnesses that lands them at Seattle Children’s Hospital.

Children with cancer and blood disorders and Cystic Fibrosis seem to understand they are nowhere near immortal.

(Yes, I know this post has taken a sudden swerve into Seriousville. Stay with me.)

Because here’s a bit of hope, courtesy of Ironworkers Local 86, a group of unsung heroes that, I feel, are quite deserving of a song . . . one sung, via photos, by an almost 50-year old woman who doesn’t look at day over almost-40. Feel free to hum along:

You see that? Those names, written on what is the expansion project at Children’s Hospital, are the names of the very sick kiddos at Children’s. Each week more names appear. Each week the kids can peer out their hospital room windows and see, in neon orange spray paint, their name so bright against the Seattle sky.

To many, the idea that we can leave some mark, some scribble, some ripple that makes us feel like we are, in some way, permanent, is quite appealing. That when we die, there will be a part of us that lives on. Maybe our immortality comes in the form of having children. Or telling stories that get passed on and on and on. Or running an index finger through wet cement to leave our initials on a patch of sidewalk.

Doctors and nurses at Children’s will do their very best to save every kid’s life. Many will succeed. Nurses and doctors who dedicate their lives to sick kids deserve our loud applause.

But what these ironworkers have given these very sick kids is something doctors cannot: the knowledge that their names, an element of their sweet identities, is a permanent part of one of Seattle’s most important buildings. That if nothing else, their names have been spray painted on metal meant to withstand earthquakes and torrential rain and the most blustery of winds. Their names are immortal. There must be great hope and comfort in that knowledge.

As I approach old age, I become more and more appreciative of regular people doing heroic things. It makes me realize that regular me can do heroic things, too. With or without a hard hat, with or without a can of spray paint.

So OK? No matter your age, no matter what decade you pretend to be in, let’s do this: on the count of three, follow the example set by Ironworkers Local 86 and get out there and SPREAD SOME HOPE! One, two, three, BREAK!

And to you, Jackson N., one of the current superheroes at Children’s, let our hope carry you right out of your bed and back on to the golf course, the basketball court and the baseball diamond where you belong. We’re all rooting for you!

  1. Awesome!

  2. Pretty sharp thinking for an old bird. 🙂

  3. During the dark days of my husband’s cancer treatment, I remember a young girl in the waiting room. Her bald head was covered in a pink scarf and she never stopped smiling. It was the last day of her treatment, and at the Mayo Clinic, patients get to ring a large bell in the waiting room on their last day. As I sat there, alone, waiting for John, the girl came back out and walked straight to the bell and pulled the chain. Everyone clapped. I’m sure a few tough ones didn’t cry. But not many. That girl carried her own hope, and ours too.

  4. I’m in tears here as I rock my fevered little girl in my arms. So thankful that a cold is something fleeting.

  5. This is what I wrote on our family’s dry erase board this week: “Explore the idea that the only reason you are on this earth is to be kind to someone else today”. It is completely the little things that make us all keep going.

  6. Whoa. That one really tugged on the ole heart strings. I’d heard the story about Children’s but reading it written in this way – oh boy!

  7. Love you for this post. It really hit home. I will be sure to pass along to the Nettleship family.
    Also I love what “Ireadthedpp” put on her dry erase board. It’s so important to be kind. If you’re nothing else in life, kind will get you far. xoxo

  8. Thank you so much! This means a lot … R.J. is my nephew 🙂

  9. Almost forgot … one of those Steel Workers dresses up like Waldo (of the “Where’s Waldo” fame) every Friday so the kids can try to find her out their windows. So simple, but so important to a sick child.

    • LOVE this detail, Tracey. God bless those tough guys, and God bless Jackson . . . along with all the other kids dealing with things that NO ONE should have to experience. xo!

  10. A beautiful story, Sarah. I also hit that “oh my gosh half-way” wall when I turned 40. It wasn’t pleasant, and (thankfully) passed quickly. At some point, I think I just remembered that I am here, today, and that’s what matters.

  11. for me and my family you are preaching to the choir. My grandson’s life was saved by Children’s Hospital. They simply can go by Childrens for those of us who know them intimately. When we are there it is a city. Laundromat beauty shop, cafe, showers and no one cares if you and your child live in your Pajamas. My grandson was in a hospital in southwest Washington. He showed staff in his blood, and I know that is serious. Life threatening! At that hospital a nurse wanted an apology because my four year old grandson did not want shots and an IV put in. That action and some more rude remarks made me demand an ambulance so we could make the life saving move to Childrens. As a huge team of people worked on this four year old told me, “I am going to get dead.” Let me tell you your heart breaks, but that is how bad he felt and it showed all of us the pain he was in, He knew something was up. As my grandson objected to the needles, tubes, more tests, and so on he became more combative. I apologized for him, and was sent to the hall to wait for the person who sent me there. The Dr. came out and instructed me never apologize for your child. “We love combative kids, and want them to stay that way.” I hope you will go support and never see a day when he is not combative.” I saw that day once. My grandson was going in for second set of surgery and he lay there motionless and not one whimper. I can say that tore my heart apart. But we all came home. It is easier to say where he did not have MRSA it was not in his heart, his eyes, and his brain. Childrens is the place to go. The take care of all of us and allow us to be part of the team. I only wish all children could go there for everything. Thanks for the article for in the building walk every day heroes that you pray most people will never need to meet. Thanks for seeing names on the structure as a message of hope, for i have another little boy in there and I want him well too, and of course all of those kids to be well.

  12. I just found this blog — what a wonderful post. I want to send flowers to those steelworkers.

  13. Such a small thing but huge, those spray-painted names. Leaving a legacy should never be a job for a child, but it happens. Thanks for reminding me today how fortunate I am to be ‘almost 50’ and a mom with THREE healthy children.

  14. […] authentic, and highlighting Sarah’s sharp wit. Case in point, her recent blog post entitled Graffiti, in which she announced her upcoming birthday. Here’s an excerpt: A small but pertinent […]

  15. Having just turned the big 5-0 myself, I am constantly aware and trying to make sense too of how real dying is and how to bring a sense of peace and understanding to it all. Your posts Sarah are the highlight of my Inbox and I am always looking at things differently after I read your stories…spiders, coral, Children’s hospital expansion…and that having “adult doubt” is a good thing. Thank you dear neighbor, friend…!

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