From Memphis with Love . . .
Once upon a time, there was a boy with brain cancer and his introvert mom.
The son and mom flew far away from home to a special hospital for treatment. They met many people, who were kind and helpful, which excited the boy but stretched the mom a bit thin.
They talked to surgeons, brain cancer specialists, radiologists, eye doctors, social workers, researchers, chaplains, therapists, psychologists. In the beginning, the specialists entered the room to talk to the mother about her son. But the boy initiated introductions and power hand shakes. He asked questions, cracked jokes, then asked more specific questions about cancer cells, MRIs, and proton beam radiation. He asked tough questions and made some people think hard. Eventually, the specialists forgot the mom’s presence and only chatted with the son. Until she was needed to sign papers.
The mother and son spent a lot of time in waiting rooms. The mom usually spoke a few words to her son or read a book. But her son preferred chatting. This special hospital was a busy place and he was never disappointed.
He told the shy teenage girl, “Excuse me, I hope I am not overstepping by saying this . . .but your prosthetic leg is sooooo cool!” The girl smiled bashfully and ducked her head, but her proud mama beamed and shared with the boy their whole story — how her daughter’s cancer and prosthetic didn’t slow her down, how she maintained her 4.0 GPA and went hunting, taking down an 8-point buck.
The boy passed another girl, her face bloated from steroids, “That hummingbird you drew in art today was amazing!” The girl beamed and detailed her plans to embellish it.
He danced the macarena for the serious pharmacist who had to work evening shift on the 4th July to make her smile. She didn’t understand the boy’s humor and his mama dragged him away to spare the woman more confusion. He was undeterred.
He met a little girl wearing a Disney’s Little Mermaid dress. So he sang a song from the movie to entertain her. In the waiting room full of people.
There you see her
Sitting there across the way
She don’t got a lot to say
But there’s something about her . .
My oh my
Looks like the boy’s too shy
Ain’t gonna kiss the girl
Ain’t that sad
It’s such a shame, too bad
You’re gonna miss the girl
The little girl ignored the boy. The boy’s mama pretended to read her book while sneaking peeks to gauge reactions. Some people looked at him with questioning eyes, “Is there something wrong with this boy? Doesn’t he know normal people don’t burst into song in public? Did his cancer mentally affect him?”
Others glanced eyes away, unsure whether to smile or not. Possibly afraid to make eye contact and engage him.
Undeterred, the boy switched to a different song.
The seaweed is always greener
In somebody else’s lake
You dream about going up there
But that is a big mistake
Just look at the world around you
Right here on the ocean floor
Such wonderful things surround you
What more is you looking for?
Finally, the little girl smiled and her baby doll danced. The little girl’s mama laughed, delighted by her daughter’s smile.
When the therapist called the boy back, he theatrically pretended to open the automatic door with magic power flowing from his fingers. After he left, the other adults felt safe to grin. “Well, he has a good attitude,” they consoled his mama.
The boy’s mother smiled and was pulled into conversation with strangers. It was not so bad.
In the cafeteria, the boy heard The Pointer Sisters sing “Jump for my love” and could not resist the temptation to groove. The cafeteria lady laughed, gave him a fist bump and told him he had moves.
The cafeteria guy avoided eye contact. The mom asked for the salmon and asparagus.
Everywhere they went, the boy learned names and stories, made someone laugh, or at the very least, perplexed a person.
And while the boy’s mom heard hard things about short-term side effects and long-term side effects and future treatments and missed her husband and children at home, she was undeterred.
She was mostly content to be a lump on a log beside her son.
Listening to him. Watching him. Watching other people respond to him. Or not.
She was entertained.