Out of the ruins and rubble
Out of the smoke
Out of our night of struggle
Can we see a ray of hope?
One pale thin ray reaching for the day
Lyrics, Beautiful City, Updated Version, Godspell
The house lights dimmed and I turned to Brooke. “I think it’s time, baby!” I said. She squealed and rocked in her seat, her excitement too big for her body to contain.
A woman took the stage and introduced herself as the director of the theater. She wanted to talk a bit about the production we were about to see. I worried about Brooke. I wasn’t sure she’d be able to wait through a speech.
The director explained that this was no ordinary production. That it was, as it seemed everyone but us in the audience already knew, to be performed by a charitable organization and all of the proceeds of the evening were to support their mission.
As so many of you know, my dad’s beautiful wife, Noelle, is fighting stage four ovarian cancer. She is the strongest woman I’ve ever met and my money remains on her beating the crap out of this thing, but the last few weeks have been her hardest yet. She spent almost all of April in the hospital in Manhattan while my dad shuttled back and forth to their home on Eastern Long Island, staying just long enough to care for her beloved dogs and take care of the business that life requires, then running back to her side. She had three separate surgeries, spent a fair amount of time in the ICU. We needed hazmat suits to visit. She was in unbearable pain. It sucked. All of it.
Much to everyone’s delight, she came home on Friday afternoon.
There is a long fight ahead. There’s fear. There’s hope. There’s sadness. There’s anger. There’s complete and utter exhaustion. There’s unimaginable strength. Through and above all, there’s boundless love and devotion.
My dad and Noelle sent me the money for these tickets months ago for Brooke for her birthday. They had no idea. Neither did I.
The director introduced the troupe – Voices of Hope. “They are a group of people,” she said, “who have journeyed with cancer. Some – many – are survivors, others – most – have walked the path with a loved one. Some mourn.”
My breath caught in my throat again.
“They created Voices of Hope as a place to meet, to support, to connect, to find and express JOY in and through music and theater. THIS,” she said emphatically, “will be a joy-filled evening.”
She explained that the cast consisted of fifty-seven people because they were determined to find a way to include everyone. “No small feat,” she said, “in a theater in the round.”
She told us where the money goes – that Voices of Hope had partnered with a targeted therapy clinic at Mass General. She introduced the head nurse from the program, who spoke about their trials. She told two stories – one about a patient she called Mark, who had come into the clinic depleted. He was unable to walk, on oxygen, the cancer that started in his lungs now in his brain, his liver, his bones. She began to cry as she told us that a month later, he walked into the clinic. That he thanked them for allowing him to be the kind of father, husband, and friend that he had so desperately longed to be during his illness.
She told us about a patient she called Mary, who had been fighting breast cancer for eight years. She told us that Mary had been an avid gardener. When they’d met, she’d had been told that all options had been exhausted, that there was nothing left to do unless a trial opened at a place that could take her. They did. Now, she’s planning what she wants to plant in her garden.
Tears were streaming down my face. Brooke was uncharacteristically quiet.
The director came back to the stage and said that she wanted to acknowledge a gentleman in the crowd. He raised a hand and the people around him let up a cheer. She explained that for every performance, he went out and raised funds, then used them to treat a group of people undergoing cancer treatment to a night out together. To give them a distraction. Light. Joy. Community. Hope.
Brooke leaned into me, her head warm and heavy and sweet on my arm.
It was almost more than I could bear.
And it was exactly what it was supposed to be.
Lessons four and five.
There are no accidents.
In faith, no matter how dark the night, there is hope.
Voices of Hope
To be continued ..
To Noe, You’ve got this. And we’ve got you.