I want to share some times in my life in which seeing color mattered. The palette for our existence is full of limitless hues, but from the moment my son was diagnosed with a complex congenital heart defect, the shades of love surrounding me became more vibrant and extensive than any other time in my life. Today, I am celebrating a group of very diverse individuals that have delivered splashes of warmth and bursts of brightness through their kindness just when I needed it most.
Bright white under the dark NICU light is one of my favorites to remember. It was Day 3 of not holding my son as the arterial lines and loads of other wires made it too cumbersome to chance a cuddle. Nurse after nurse said the risk wasn’t worth it. But then, one said different. Back in Atlanta, she told me, mothers always held their babies, precarious tubes or not. She had the confidence to maneuver my newborn in such a way that I could finally hold him- something my heart ached to do. She asked if I felt sure enough to steer clear of the line inserted into his neck because bleeding out was a real possibility if it became dislodged. I smiled and almost shouted, “Yes!! Please! Anything to hold him.” Her huge smile revealed perfect white teeth, and together, our happy grins casted out all the shadows lurking in our corner of the children’s hospital. She didn’t see white. I didn’t see black. We were just two women, happy to see a baby snuggled right where he belonged.
Turquoise in the form of a tiny toy truck lit up a nook of our hospital room at Texas Children’s Hospital. It now remains parked on Charlie’s changing table to serve as a reminder that we can find time to play and smile even when exhaustion and pain are almost impossible to escape. During my son’s second heart surgery, my dad snuck a toy out of his pocket- Charlie’s first Hot Wheel- and said despite Charlie being too tiny to play with it quite yet, he wanted to be the first to buy him the small toy that brought him so much joy when he was a boy. Later, I would roll the wheels along my brave heart’s back and make up destinations that would take us away from the confines of the heart unit. On one visit, my son’s surgeon picked it up, smiled, and said he thought every boy should own at least one Hot Wheel. I couldn’t agree more. That truck has travelled more miles than any real vehicle and is one of the sweetest gifts we’ve received. I don’t see it as coming from a white conservative, but rather, PawPaw. He’s the man that knows all about turquoise toys, boys, and making time for play on any day.
Green grosgrain ribbons bounced on her head as she yelled after my son, “Chaw-lie! I’m gonna get you.” Her momma’s New Orlean’s accent and big heart that she inherited were evident in her exchanges with Charlie. He laughed in delight as he ran amok around our living room. He was finally home from the hospital, and seeing the two of them behave as all toddlers do melted our hearts. His nail-beds were still blue at the time, and hers were pink. But it didn’t matter. Fun was on the table, and normalcy in the form of child’s play and sweet laughter was all we needed. I can’t wait to see the colorful bows in her hair on our next encounter…
Silver tools assembled my son’s toddler bed and simultaneously pieced together a broken existence. I hated asking for help and was struggling with accepting my lacking skill set. It didn’t matter to him though. He laughed, allowed Charlie’s feet in his face and the snatching of his baseball hat, all the while making a comfy resting place for my little guy. Later, he would tell me there’s not a damn thing wrong with me or my son. I believed him then and still do. He’s not a gay man. I’m not a straight woman. He’s a weilder of tools that can build a smile. I’m a person with a million thoughts on how the most Godlike individuals are those that show kindness when nothing can be gained other than knowing that a good deed was done.
Long black lashes glistening with tears remain one of the most harrowing images I’ve seen. As she held her lids tightly shut to keep the cascade of sadness from spilling down her cheeks, she apologized. “I’m sorry. Everyone said I’m not to cry in front of Charlie. This is too much though. Did you know I prayed? An atheist that prayed. But I did. If there is a God, he needs to save Charlie. Now.” I smiled, handed her a tissue and appreciated her audacity and honesty. No. She wouldn’t step out, and no, she wouldn’t hide her fear. But she also smiled and held our hands. A true brave heart isn’t one without fears, but rather, one that lets her guard down to reveal the fears to others while openly struggling to conquer them. I don’t care that she’s not calling herself a Christian. I’m sure Christ is proud of her.
The mixture of blue and gray that make up her eyes always seem to say, “I’m here. No judgement. Just understanding.” They always see Sabrina and Charlie. No pity. No sadness. Their gaze lifts our spirits as the twinkle and intelligence they reveal manages to create normalcy in the midst of chaos. My favorite? There was a time our home was packed away in a hundred boxes and play seemed impossible. Somehow, her eyes lit up the space as she chased after my guy and managed a three hour conversation- about what, I can’t remember. Just that for a while, there was no relevance to her being a liberal. Current events aren’t always political. She (like me) sees that our own friends’ and family members’ struggles are more current and real than anything on TV. Her eyes see in similarities and support. For this, she always has our vote.
The fire engine red luggage overloading her small frame could be seen across the parking lot. It was 4 am, an unimaginable wake up hour on surgery day, and she was there to help facilitate our hospital stay. I swear, a smile never left her face. Not once. Not when my hands trembled as they held the door open to the pediatric pre-operation cardiology floor, and not when my son thanked her for coming to his surgery day. Not even when we came back to say, after surgery, his oxygen levels still weren’t up. I don’t know about being a Muslim woman, but I do know about being a loving woman. That’s her. The epitome of goodness. Every time I picture her kindness, hope and strength, I know her heart has to be brighter than the suitcases she once lugged around for us.
Soft baby blue yarn wove a comforting blanket for my son. He still sleeps with it to this day. Jewish hands crocheted love into each knot that would soften up his many hospital beds. I still use baby detergent for his bedding and enjoy the smell of faith and hope that were gifted from a woman when we needed it most.
Brown hot liquid calmed my soul as the warm tea she made brought peace in the midst of turmoil. “His father may have left, but you, your son, and love remain.” The ingredients that made up this recipe came from India- a land far away, but the magic couldn’t have been closer. Each time she shares the wisdom and perspective from her personal culture and background, I’m calmed.
Orange decor in a sea themed room is a place that welcomes her students. It’s Charlie’s favorite color and is the basis for our most vibrant escape. Once he was cleared to be around the general public, she would welcome us during her lunch break into her classroom. Both ecstatic and honored to have her favorite person visit. After me, she’s Charlie’s greatest fan and takes us in both sickness and health; poverty and wealth. She’s middle class America but cream of the crop when it comes to humanity. I hope my son has her level of loyalty and dedication to the people he loves. She’d give up sleeping in and traveling during spring break just for us. She’d allow us to blast her Disney soundtrack and tear into her library while we celebrate life and the simplicity of living it. Though none of us have piles of money, the three of us make up the wealthiest crew I’ve ever encountered. We’re the richest people I know for having her level of sacrifice and love.
These people are so much more than a race, sexual orientation, income, gender, nationality, religion or political view point. They’re the colors that have painted a beautiful world for me and my son when darkness was our canvas. They’re the light that eradicated pain and suffering, and for that, I’m forever grateful.
A good heart has the power to heal; labels are of no consequence when selfless actions are the paintbrush for the world that is our masterpiece. When you open your eyes, open your heart too; allow it to soak up and appreciate all the beauty and good in everyone around you.
Thank you to all of the very different people in our life: your kindness has united and saved us. We love you!