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!