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The Force of Hope MAG
"Showher," Darrin urged. "Show it to her." I looked at Octavia,wondering what Darrin was talking about. She fussed with her fleece, and finallyexposed the top of her chest, where there was a lump. I looked for aninstant.
"What is it?" I asked, feeling bad that Darrin hadpressured her to show me. He didn't know any better though, being an enthusiasticsecond-grader.
"It's a port!" She seemed comfortable saying it,as if she was showing me a pattern of freckles, or a scraped knee. I wasn't surehow to handle this, so I announced nonchalantly, "Oh, I know what thatis," as if I had seen hundreds. Octavia looked at me doubtfully. "Aport is for when you go to the hospital, so they can hook you up easily formedicines and machines, isn't it?" She nodded.
Although the port mayhave faded from our conversation, I couldn't get it out of my mind. Octaviawasn't even old enough to go to school, but she had been battling cancer for whatseemed like forever. Seeing that bump on her chest broke my heart. Mostpreschoolers can't deal with a scraped elbow or a paper cut; Octavia was alreadyused to having her port.
It seems like some kind of crime againsthumanity: this child lives in a shelter with her family, and, as if that's notenough, she has to deal with cancer. I remember last year while playing with thekids at the shelter that Octavia, then tiny and fragile, was not allowed to joinus. When she did go outside, she had to wear a mask over her nose and mouth toprotect her from germs. At that point, I had no idea why she wore it, or that shewas ill. When she climbed up on a chair to play with the phone and dial numberslike the other kids, I thought nothing of it. I thought nothing of it, that is,until the shelter's director reprimanded me for allowing such a sick child totouch something as filthy as a germ-ridden phone.
I had never known achild with cancer, or any other serious disease, and no one had told me what shecould and could not do. With a child at such a high-risk of getting sick, itseemed appropriate that someone at the shelter would have stayed to help me, a15-year-old. Yet no one had told me how gentle I should be, or how to entertainsuch a sick little girl. I felt as if I should have known, and that if somethinghad happened to her it would have been my fault - at least, that's what thedirector made me feel during our "talk."
Now I realize that Icouldn't possibly have understood what was expected of me. Is it just a fact oflife that all our hearts will someday break for a child who carries the constantburden of pain and death? Octavia is one of countless suffering children, yet sheis the one I know, the one I see.
As I pushed her higher and higher on theswing the other day, I thought of that port, and the pain she must endure. Iwondered, too, when it would end. And how? I like to pat her on the head becauseher hair is growing back now, and I like to chase her around, because she can runnow. At Halloween we took pictures of all the kids dressed up. Her pink PowerRanger mask made the picture glow; she wasn't covering her face to keep outgerms, she was covering it to be like other kids. When she played with toys andsat in the dirt, I remembered the time she couldn't go near a phone.
Lifting her out of the swing, I noticed how heavy she was, and smiledbecause I used to feel her as she breathed. Her breath once moved her whole bodywhen she weighed almost nothing.
I wonder how long her remissionwill last. I hope the answer is forever. I also wonder why, of all people, alittle girl like Octavia is battling cancer. She doesn't go to school, shedoesn't know math, but she has been working harder than any child I have evermet. I look up to this little girl, even though she reaches only to my waist. Sheis the wrong host for an evil guest like cancer. But Octavia is too animated forcancer. I think she would do well at karate; she lacks the concentration tobecome a ballerina. She wants to be normal, and she is, because she feels thesame emotions as other children. She loves to spin, to draw, and be pushed on theswings.
There are things I will never understand about the world, andthere is pain that surpasses anything I have ever known. But I know too thatthere are girls like Octavia who are small but strong, fragile but sturdy, andtired but full of life. I still wonder why it is that some who suffer also havethe most zest for life. Maybe it is because they know how short it can be, ormaybe because they know that every breath they take and every word they speakshould be savored, not taken for granted.
Maybe it's just because theywant to make the most of the time they have. Whatever the reason for Octavia'svivacity, I applaud her. Octavia has strength. It may not be physical, but she'sendured this far, and some force keeps her going. Maybe that force is hope: thehope in her heart, and the hope in mine.