One day last fall, I sat outside the mall with my children, in an area with a fountain and grass just outside the bookstore. It’s a nice area for letting the kids play while I look through the books I’ve just bought.
Boy and Girl wanted to throw pennies into the fountain, so I gave them each two, and they ran off to make their wishes. A few moments later, my son came back to me. He still had one penny clutched in his hand. “What’s the name again of the one in our family who’s sick?” he asked.
Just that week, my uncle had been diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer, at the age of 51. (When we heard the news, I was with my children, and they wanted to know why I was sad. So I let them know that he was sick, but didn’t say what the illness was, knowing they were too young to process that information unless it became necessary.)
“You’re thinking of Uncle K,” I answered. Boy seemed to take in this information and, still holding his last penny, ran off to make his wish. A wish so clear and full-hearted that it broke my heart.
It was more than a penny’s worth of wish, I knew that much.
I sat there and cried, moved by the sweetness of my boy, who would spend his remaining wish to ask for his uncle to be well. His soul is so tender and giving, and I worry all the time that he will lose that sweetness. And then at other times I worry what hurt awaits him if others take advantage of it.
But that day, I didn’t worry at all. I just reveled in the love of that one small act. His last penny, and the one wish that was worthy of it. (I would have given him more, but he didn’t know that.)
Now, all these months later, I’m very happy to report that my uncle is doing well and his prognosis is good. There have been a number of complications, but he has great doctors, and a good amount of luck on his side.
Tonight, I answered my phone to hear the voices of my aunt and uncle on the other end, saying they were visiting here and wanted to stop by while they were in town. They were about 30 minutes away, which gave me time for a whirlwind de-cluttering. It was a lovely surprise, and I was so glad to see them both. My uncle looks good, and seemed to be feeling well. He and my aunt have always looked young, and the cancer hasn’t changed that for him (or for her, with the stress of it), so far. He hasn’t lost his hair yet, but that may change soon, with the next course of chemo.
We talked for a couple of hours. My conversations with them are always very animated and are peppered with old family stories. I even heard a few that were new to me. As always, we laughed a lot.
I had forgotten in all these months to tell them the story about Boy and his wish, but I told them tonight. I couldn’t get it out without tearing up, but it was all right, since they did, too. Maybe it’s better to hear a story like that when things are looking brighter.
Of course, I am not about to say that his wish did anything more than soothe my heart. With cancer or any serious illness, the odds can go any number of ways, many of them very bad. A coin tossed into a fountain doesn’t alter any course or destiny.
The Boy couldn’t even buy a penny’s worth of candy, these days, with his one penny. And the way I see it, his penny bought a lot.