The list reminded me of something from a storybook I had read in first grade.
The book was called “The Littlest Angel.” It was about a young angel whose humility and innocence led him to believe that a humble gift offered to the baby Jesus was inadequate.
His gift– a small box with a golden butterfly, a blue bird’s egg - had been all the little angel had in Heaven to remind him of his earthly home. And it had brought him such peace and happiness, because he had been so homesick! Yet he had been willing to part with it.
After he placed his box among the dazzling array of gifts offered to the newborn, however, his face burned with embarrassment as he cried hot tears, thinking that his gift was inadequate. As it turned out, it pleased God the most because it came from a humble, pure and true heart.
I saw a list recently that didn’t contain humble gifts a child was giving but rather humble gifts that a child hoped to receive. It evoked the same thoughts and feelings I had felt years ago when I read the list of contents of the box of the “The Littlest Angel.”
It was a list from families and kids in Winship Cancer Institute’s “Adopt A Family” holiday program. Winship’s coordinator of volunteer services, DaVida Lee Williams – an angel herself — works with Winship social services director, James Hankins, to identify patients at Winship who need help at the holidays providing their family with presents and food and some well-deserved good cheer.
Now, first off, I can’t imagine the horror of having young children and having cancer.
I can’t begin to imagine what it is like to be a child whose mother or father has cancer as the holidays approach. I can’t imagine what it’s like to be a mother or father with cancer and to know I don’t have money to buy presents for them.
Too often, however, I know that “poor” and “cancer” intersect. And Winship tries to help, to connect those with an interest in helping these patients to these patients so that families of cancer patients can experience some joy at the holiday.
I looked at the book of families to see where I could possibly help. Suddenly, as I saw the requests – and I can say that most all are unbelievably humble — the theoretical became real. The names weren’t just names, they were people struggling with a horrible illness and their family members who might not have presents to open and enjoy at a time of year when so many others. And the requests were all so humble. A Bible. A blanket. A set of sheets.
I was most taken with one family of a single mother and two teenagers.
We all hear about how self-absorbed teenagers are. So I wouldn’t have been surprised had the teens dared to ask for an iPad, an iPhone or even a TV. Shoot, with a very ill mother, I might have been tempted to pull out all the stops and shoot for the moon, ask for a car, a trip to Disney. Nope. None of that.
Here’s what the kids listed:
Can you believe that in 2011 that there are young people who would ask for so little? Can you believe that there are kids who, even when their mother is ill and they might have all the reason in the world to feel cheated and bitter and angry, would show such purity of spirit that they just want their feet and heads to be warm?
These teens may not be the littlest angels on Earth, but they are certainly some of the sweetest.
The other cases I read about were similar. Maybe cancer has taught the families not to hope for too much. Maybe the families are braced for a holiday that just won’t be too bright, or maybe they have learned how to be joyous in the face of supreme sadness.
While the needs of many of the families have been addressed during the holidays, there are still families who need help year round. In our next post, we’ll discuss ways you too can help.
Author: Lynne Anderson, Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University