Friday, May 08, 2009


If you had not have fallen
Then I would not have found you

Angel flying too close to the ground

I’ve been thinking about angels lately, in different meanings of the word. Yesterday, I went to a local cancer clinic to pick up something I’d won at a silent auction for the Relay for Life.

“Here’s your angel wings,” the receptionist said brightly.

“Fairy wings,” I corrected her.

She looked at me, curious.

Because she’s working at a Cancer Clinic, and this might be helpful information, I explained further.

See, in the world of Childhood Cancer, a common euphemism for when a child dies is, “He earned his angel wings.” It’s a phrase I’ve read too many times. Not that I have a problem with the phrase itself. But whatever the euphemism, the precipitating event has happened too damn much.

In any case – information that someone in Cancer World should have.

And I patched up your broken wing
And hung around a while

Tried to keep your spirits up

And your fever down

For me, I like the idea of angels as human representations of God. And I think during our time in Florida, we were around a whole bunch.

I don’t say that lightly.

There are a couple of staff members at Give Kids the World, but practically everyone I saw was a volunteer. There are some who are there just for the week. Others, such as the woman who met us at the airport, have been there for years and years.

Many of the long-term volunteers are employees at Universal Studios and Disney, there on their own time. Many are retirees.

They treat the families as royal guests. When they tell you it is their honor to wait on you, serve you, you believe they mean it.

The younger people are very energetic, lots of enthusiasm. For many of them, I imagine we Make-a-Wish familes are people they care for, people they want to make smile, people they are (in the best sense of the term) sorry for. They don’t yet know that WE are THEM. But some do.

The older ladies, for the most part, are very helpful, very efficient, very friendly. They want to make our lives easier for the week we are there.

The old men … well, they are the ones that make my chest tighten. They’re silly and they wear their hearts on their sleeves. They want to make the kids laugh. And when they think you’re not looking, they’re giving your child a long, wistful look. And you know, you just know, that if it were within their power, they’d give up the rest of their lives in exchange for the life of any child there.

The goal of Give Kids the World was to make it a child’s idea of heaven on earth. So it’s perhaps not surprising to find angels there.

We found angels outside the gates of GKTW, especially at the parks. Yes, loud, expensive, obnoxious amusement parks. There are angels there.

I knew someday that you would fly away
For love's the greatest healer to be found

Like the old man (again with the old men!) running the Winnie the Pooh ride. “There’s only one thing about you riding this,” he informed LW. “YOU have to ride it twice!” She beamed.

She wore a special pin that designated her as a GKTW child. It wasn’t particularly large, but for some special angels, it was a neon sign.

We were watching the “Dreams” parade at Magic Kingdom, and at the back of the Aladdin float, there were Mary Poppins and Bert.

Little Warrior and I love Mary Poppins and Bert.

From up high on his float, somehow Bert managed to see Little Warrior and her pin. He grabbed Mary Poppins and we could see his words – “Make a Wish.” They began pointing and waving wildly at Little Warrior.


We spent one day at Universal Studios, and I wish we'd made it two. They went above and beyond in their treatment of my family. Talk about royalty ... they'd spot that pin and come rushing over. Special things would happen. 80's teens, we've introduced The Boy to all of the Back to the Future movies. We came upon "Doc," standing in front of the DeLorean. The actual DeLorean used in the movie, he informed us. He spotted LW's pin and got that tender smile we were now familiar with. He gave a special grin to The Boy and reached into his pocket. He pulled out ... car keys? He opened up the car and The Boy got a seat for a pretty cool photo op.

There were some grown men behind us who were envying The Boy right then.

At the end of our Universal day, we were heading toward the exit, when we saw that Spider Man was giving autographs. Now, even LW knows Spidey, so we started heading that way. An employee stopped us. "Are you going to see Spiderman?" he asked. Yes, we said. "Can you wait about 7 minutes?" he asked. He was smiling. We had learned to say Yes to any offers at this point.

He took us around the corner. "Stand right here," he said. "In just a few minutes, you're going to hear an alarm, and then all the superheroes are going to come whizzing around here on their bikes." Oooh, excitement! After a couple of minutes, the alarm sounded, and here came Captain America, Spiderman, Wolverine and other assorted superheroes that I'm not cool enough to identify. (I guess I have to watch X-men, now.)

It's been hard on the older ones, as over the past four years they've had to say No to birthday parties, swimming lessons, and other opportunities for germs. Part of their identity has been "the kid whose sister has cancer."

Well, they got to go back to school with some pretty cool snapshots.

We went to what is called a “character meal” at one of the resort restaurants. This was “hosted” by Cinderella, Prince Charming, and the evil stepmother and stepsisters, who were a hoot.

It was the stepmother, Lady Tremaine to those of you in the know, who spotted LW’s pin, apparently from across the room. She gave us a look. “I’ll be coming to talk to YOU later,” she informed us.

We met the stepsisters, and Cinderella. How many times had LW, when we were in the hospital, talked about meeting Cinderella? Cinderella danced with her, then escorted her over for a dance with Prince Charming.

After that, Cinderella came over to our table and requested that we hang back after the dinner. "We want to give a magic moment to your family."

When the dining room had just about cleared out, the maitre d’ asked us to come outside in the courtyard. She got the children all looking one way … and Cinderella and company came out, behind us.

They spent a good deal of private time with us, taking pictures, talking with the children. All in character. Let me tell, the guards at Buckingham Palace don’t have anything on the Disney folk. Talk about commitment.

It was a magical evening. Angels.

The person who created Give Kids the World is Henri Landwirth, who barely survived the Holocaust as a young boy. He believes the happiness can inspire hope, and hope can lead to healing. He’s seen it happen, there at the Village.

So leave me if you need to
I will still remember

Angel flying too close to the ground

When we fall, whether it’s due to life circumstances, or making mistakes, or losing our spirit, it gives us the opportunity to experience being helped back up. And it gives the other person, the angel, an experience as well.

I wanted the kids to get a little taste of that, of not just being the recipients, but being the givers. Nothing much, but in their little fanny packs, I had some trinkets, stickers, for them to give away. Those who frequent the Disney parks call it "pixie dust" and make a point of spreading it when they can.

At Magic Kingdom, as we waited for the after-dark festivities, The Princess pulled out an extra “glow” bracelet and handed it to a little girl sitting near us. The way people act! You would have thought it was gold!

And then, on our last day at Disney, we passed some twin boys, probably about 3 years old. One was really kicking up a fuss, crying and carrying on. Dad was trying to talk to him calmly, but you could tell, he was a little frustrated. The Boy went over to him. He had two pirate’s patches and clip on earrings. “May I give this to them?” he asked the dad. The father, with a grateful look, nodded.

The Boy handed them out to the twins. The crying stopped. They began grinning and trying to put on their earrings. As we walked away, the mother said to her husband, “Well, that saved the day!” The Boy heard it.

It was nothing. Just some cheap trinkets. But The Boy got to feel like an angel. There was an extra bit of jaunty in his walk.

Fly on, fly on past the speed of sound
I'd rather see you up
Than see you down

I still feel a need to say, Whooey, the price wasn’t worth it. But this experience through the land of childhood cancer has enabled all of us to see another world, one that not everyone gets to see. A world where complete strangers handmake beautiful clothes for you to wear on your trip. A world where characters hug with abandon. A world where you are treated with a little more attention, because compassion is rich and real, and can't be stifled.

Leave me if you need to
I will still remember
Angel flying too close to the ground

I hope that you never have the need for such compassion.
I hope that if you do, you receive it.

As for me, I've seen angels in action. They're both the ones giving and the ones receiving. We're all those representations of God, because God is in both sides of the equation. We are, all of us, angels flying too close to the ground.


Chalicechick said...

(((The old men … well, they are the ones that make my chest tighten. They’re silly and they wear their hearts on their sleeves. They want to make the kids laugh.)))

"Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly"

G.K. Chesterton


Ps. the African American superhero in the white costume is "Storm."

Kelly KH said...

Oh, well, you made me cry. Again ;). What a gift for words you have. I am filled with joy that your family got this time together and that LW got such a fabulous opportunity to live her dream. And your other children too, and you! Hugs and blessings to all of you.

goodwolve said...

Damn you. I just put on mascara to go out into the world - but read this before. Now I am a blubbering mess.

fausto said...

That was beautiful.

And as soon as you get in a pulpit, it'll preach.

musingegret said...

This was such a wonderful description of the week, the angels, the experiences, the love exchanged and expressed all around and all interspersed with one of Willie's most memorable songs. You are a treasure. Thank you for allowing us to peek in.

the change said...

Wow - I'm sitting here with tears streaming down my face. Thank you for sharing the magic of your trip with us and the reminder that angels are out there everywhere. What you said about your kids getting to be angels to other children made me think very much about Rabbi Shmuley Boteach's discussion about teaching his kids to bestow dignity on others in his book "10 Conversations to Have with Your Children." Just beautiful.