“Excuse me, sir,” I said shyly turning my head, not wanting to make eye contact with this stranger I had nearly plowed over.
“That’s quite alright,” the tall faceless man acknowledged politely.
Gosh, what a klutz, I thought to myself as I walked to my son’ hospital room. The homey yet sterile environment was still new to me, but as our say there would turn from days into months, the tastefully decorated walls, the odors of medication and disinfectants, and the sounds of joy and despair would become all too familiar.
When I walked into Joshua’s room, I must have had a peculiar look on my face, one that a five-year-old would easily pick up on.
“What’s wrong, Mommy?” Josh asked with a twinge of concern.
“Oh, nothing. I wasn’t paying attention when I walked out of the parents lounge and I ran right into some guy.”
By the time I had finished my explanation; Josh’s concern had disappeared and was replaced with a touch of excitement.
“Did you see the Angel, Mommy?”
My heart stopped and sank to the bottom of my feet. We were in this place to save Josh’s life. His only hope, other than a miracle, was a bone marrow transplant. It was our second day here. The intense treatment hadn’t started yet and his leukemia was pretty much under control. What the heck is he doing talking about angels? He has known all along that if his leukemia couldn’t be cured, there would be a chance that an angel would come and take him to heaven, but I was nowhere near ready for him to be seeing that angel yet.
“What angel, Honey?” I asked, my voice shaking, trying to cover any hint of fear.
“The angel from Heaven, like we see on T.V.” He wanted so desperately for me to understand.
“No, Josh, I didn’t see anybody.” My voice still shaking.
“Well, he was here. I saw him walking in the hall. He waved at me.” Josh argues, as he wrapped his arms around his favorite Ninja Turtle and turned away from me in a huff. I’m certain he was thinking that Mom doesn’t know anything. A typical child thought.
I decided not to say anymore. I crawled beside him on the hard, cold, uncomfortable bed. Even though we had brought his favorite blanket and six of his favorite stuffed animals, it was nothing like his bed at home. It lacked the warmth and security of his well broken-in sanctuary.
As he drifted off to sleep, a rush of reality hit me like a blazing fire. We were here. The University of Iowa Hospital’s pediatric bone marrow transplant unit. My baby boy, my first-born, and here he is fighting for his life. Why? Where were any of these children here?
The tears streamed down my face like raindrops on a windshield. Through the wall of water I noticed a shadow by the door. As I wiped away my tears, the shadow slowly became a man. It was him. The man from the parents lounge incident. I didn’t turn away out of embarrassment now. I felt no need to do so. I looked deep into his soft dark eyes. His shoulder length wavy brown hair outlined a flawless deeply tanned face. Even though flawless, his face showed signs of age and maybe even a little roughness. He was dressed entirely in black. The only distinction was the tiny silver buttons that cascaded down his chest to meet up perfectly with a delicate silver belt buckle.
This time, he turned his head and said, “Excuse me, Ma’am.”
I could do nothing but stare at him.
“May I come in?” he asked softly, as if not wanting to disturb Josh, or offend me.
“Sure.” I answered in a somewhat intimidated tone.
After he put on the sterile, white gown and washed his hands (a ritual everyone gets used to if they spend any time on the unit), he walked, with a sense of harmony towards everything in the room, towards Josh’s bed. Tenderly touching Josh’s check, the stranger gave both of us an angelic smile.
With that being the ice-breaker, the intimidation soon left me. I climbed off the bed and sat down in the chair nestled between the stranger and the tall awkward IV stand that held the bags and bottles of intravenous nutrition that pumped slowly into my son. This was the only form of food his fragile body had been able to tolerate since his chemotherapy began months earlier.
As I settled into the chair, the stranger grabbed my hand.
“Don’t be afraid, you’re not alone here.” He whispered.
I turned to look at Josh. I did not want this stranger to see the fear or pain in my eyes.
He repeated his words, and added, “The Lord and others are here to share your fears and bear some of them for you.”
Josh stirred in his sleep, as he turned his face towards us, a sweet smile came over his face. It was almost as if the stranger’s words blanketed him from his own fears.
“Do you have faith?” the stranger’s voice no longer at a whisper.
“Of course. I have to. I don’t think I couldn’t have made it this far without it.” I answered, noticing a calm in my voice that I hadn’t heard for some time.
After what seemed like hours of conversation and silent communication between the stranger and I, a nurse came in to check the IV pump. The stranger took her presence as a sign to end our time. Before he left, he reached out his hand.
“My name is Michael.
“Hi, Michael, I’m Leah.”
As he removed the gown and walked out of the room, I watched his every step. His walk still in harmony with everything around him. When he was no longer in sight, a sense of sadness came over me, knowing that I would never see him again.
That sense soon disappeared when I thought of our visit. He was a light that brightened up my darkness. He filled me with a new feeling of hope and happiness that I thought at this time was impossible. His words and his totally unselfish concern, helped me realize that no matter what the circumstances, no matter what the outcomes, life is to be lived and loved. He was truly an angel.
I turned towards Josh. I now understood what he meant by “the angel”. Not only was this stranger a true angel in my life, he was the angel from TV. – Michael Landon.
When I learned, months after Joshua’s angel did come and take him to heaven, that Michael himself was stricken with cancer, my heart ached. Here had been a man, who gave so much of himself to make my journey easier, and now he was faced with the same fears and pain Josh and I had been. I prayed and prayed that our conversation would come back to him in his time of need.
Neither Joshua nor Michael got the miracle we all prayed for. But that tall dark stranger gave me the miracle of renewed faith, and true, honest, heartfelt hope.