The Angel

The red “2” stopped blinking; the distinctive sound tingled; and the door of the elevator opened. We arrived on the 2nd floor of the hospital. The welcome sign for short-term visitors as well as long-term patients indicated that this area of the hospital portrayed the edge of life; children were fighting cancer behind these yellow walls and colorfully-decorated, small windows that gave them their only glimpse of the outside world. Four classmates and I—we all were part of the same confirmation group and did this as a project—visited these children every Monday afternoon. Because we are all concerned about the war against cancer, which contains many nasty battles and does not always result in a successful survival.  The five of us tried to bring a fragile light into the cancer family’s world of struggle, uncertainty, pain, and death. This particular Monday, however, it was not we who were the messengers of good news and laughter; that afternoon, a little girl, deadly sick with the widely spread sickness of leukemia, reached out to me and turned my world around.

I had known Louise for almost a year. She was an only-child, her parent’s diamond. She talked like an adult, loved patent leather shoes, and preferred pizza to pasta. She had been fighting cancer for almost two years, and her body had become tired and weak. To survive, she was waiting for a medulla donor.

That Monday was Louise’s fourth birthday. As the big sister of three girls, I knew exactly what would be the appropriate gift for a young diva: a dancer in the midst of a pirouette enchanted the jewelry case I chose for Louise. I had turned into a green balloon; my head was packaged, and my body had lost its shape under the lab coat. The bald-headed girl would turn four that day, and the bacteria-free present rested in my sanitized hands.

Louise was sitting on her mother’s lap. She looked horrible. Her blue veins appeared through the transparent skin of her swollen and tired face and her cold hands.  Her eyes, however, were joyfully laughing.

As she opened the gift, I saw the angel dangling from a golden necklace around her neck. She looked up, smiled at me, and asked what she could put into the case. I pointed at her necklace and told her she could put it in there at night. The expression on her face ultimately darkened. “You know, I won’t survive a night without the angel watching over me.”

Louise let me take a deep breath before continuing with living. I re-evaluated my standards, my expectations, and my beliefs. The little girl had outlined God’s silhouette for me: she had no choice but to believe in a higher power that was watching over her life. From the less bright, less easy side of life, this little girl knew how fragile health is. As she responded to my clumsy and helpless statement with these simple, clear, and moving words, the world seemed to stop. And then, my world, the one I had been taking for granted, turned around. Her mother’s silent tears and Louise’s smile combined life with all its complexity; the little hospital room in Germany seemed to brighten up. The air was fresh, almost crystal, and the sun’s rays touched more than the walls.

Around Christmas that year, Louise found a donor. She received her spinal marrow last fall, and her body adopted the life-saving aid. Her angel is not only watching over her, it is watching over you and me too. Her life was saved, and she, with only four years, had touched my life without even knowing. But not every cancer patient is as lucky as Louise. In fact, many, many, many are not.