By: Tara Kerrigan Hayes
I’m one of those people who tussles with the temptation of quitting Facebook. I struggle with intentions behind certain posts; the transparent boasting and silent competitions under the guise of something else. But I stick around for the positives, like the steady stream of comic relief we so desperately need lately, and for keeping up to date with family and friends from afar. Having lived in multiple cities and with family overseas, I have the gift of seeing photos of loved ones I might otherwise lose track of. More than anything, I remain to see the faces of their kids brighten my screen, as I witness their growth and triumphs over the years.
One such kid appeared on my newsfeed a couple of weeks ago. Only she was no longer a kid, but a beautiful 16 year-old, posing modestly in an elegant dress. The caption of the photo, (posted by her mom), read simply, “Junior prom should have been this evening. Amelia got dressed up anyway to celebrate it.”
Like countless other disappointed teens this year, Amelia will miss out on important milestones that can never be recaptured. Yet, she looks in a word – joyful. It’s the kind of photo that stops your heart, stops time. With her polished make-up, and her short hair neatly twisted into demure curls, Amelia wears a smile reminiscent of The Mona Lisa. It’s seemingly a smile with a secret behind it.
Of all the photos I’ve seen of Amelia throughout the years, this one is my favorite, and I’ve seen many. Amelia as a little girl, as a preteen. Amelia getting her driver’s permit. Amelia after her bone marrow transplant. Amelia in recovery. Amelia when her cancer relapsed. And now, Amelia smiling happily, despite being robbed of the memories she should have been making on a night that promised to be exceptional in more ways than the obvious.
Perhaps it’s because she knows there are future memories make, and maybe she hasn’t always been able to say that. Or simply that she has her own hair to style, because chemo hadn’t always afforded her that. Her smile exudes a sense of gratitude. Like she’s simply thankful to be here, enjoying life, and not as picky about the minutia of where “here” is. Maybe because “here”, for a nice change, isn’t a hospital room, because God knows, she’s seen enough of those.
For Amelia, the very same daunting quarantine procedures that plagued the masses provisionally has simply been a way of life for her as a requisite of transplant protocol. The perpetual hand washing, social distancing, mask requirements – this will all continue to be Amelia’s reality. It won’t matter to Amelia when the restaurants reopen; she can’t dine out. Other than doctor’s appointments, Amelia rarely leaves the house. Junior prom was to be the one isolated exception. Her one night to be out amongst her peers, and experience life through the eyes of your average teenager.
But this remarkable young lady is anything but average. “Amelia doesn’t complain, ever”, says her mother Jennifer. “She missed out on 4th grade, 11th grade and the second half of the 10th. No Sweet 16 party, can’t take her road test, no prom, can’t take her SATs or visit colleges. Just more in a long list of missed things others take for granted. My oldest daughter is a senior and is missing out on a lot. But they both know in the big picture of life, these things, while fun, aren’t that important”.
Both Jennifer’s words and Amelia’s smile are poignant reminders that while most of the world bubbles over with impatience get back to “normal”, there’s an entirely different kind of normal awaiting so many others. Therefore we should treat each other with kindness, respect, compassion, and remain ever conscious that we never know what another person is enduring.
It’s also cause to take pause and reflect the next time we are quick to use the expression, “to kill time” – as if time is some unremitting weed in need of obliteration. Instead, we should protect and cherish time. Be careful about how, (and who with), to spend it. Regard it as a depleting treasure that cannot be replenished, for any of us. Because that’s exactly what it is.
And who knows that better than Amelia, who goes back into the hospital this week – a place where nobody wants to be, especially now – to check on the progress of her bone marrow transplant in the hopes that her levels have improved since her last visit. Because her life, quite literally, depends on it. And still – she smiles.