When I have chemo, I spend much of my time either in the cancer infusion center or in our house, making me feel isolated and my world very small. Afterwards, when I reenter the rest of the society, I join my friends who have ongoing connections with each other. They are wonderful and open but getting back into the flow of our connections initially feels like entering a foreign world. Each time, I need to get over my shyness and remember how to navigate the dynamics. I make fumbling attempts as I start.
Thankfully, friends help me in this reconnection, so smoothly that I don’t even notice that they are the ones opening the path for me. However, an experience with one of our sons drove this right into my heart.
Recently, our six-year-old son had four of his classmates over for a playdate. After climbing onto the trampoline, the five boys started jumping, which quickly turned to wrestling. Amid peals of laughter, I heard comments like, “Out of my way!” and “Your butt stinks!”
Periodically one would yell, “New game!” I naively thought that meant switching to basketball or baseball. Nope. Each time, I watched them unfold from their puppy pile, stand for barely a second, and then gleefully tackle each other again.
One boy I’ll call Max kept himself on the fringe of the fray. Max is a sweet kid who follows the rules. He eats neatly, takes off his shoes when he enters my house, and politely says “please” and “thank you” without missing a beat. He even flushes the toilet and washes his hands. He didn’t give off a rough-and-tumble vibe, and he kept one eye on the roughhousing as he ran around the perimeter of the trampoline.
I stood next to the trampoline, ostensibly to make sure that no one got physically hurt, but more to make sure that no one got emotionally hurt. Because I hate to be left out, my antennae went up as I watched Max run around the action and not be part of it.
“You’re not playing, Max,” one boy stated as he launched into another tackle. His voice held no judgment, just observation.
“I want to play,” Max stated in a calm, matter-of-fact tone while he continued to run in a circle around the moving pile of boys, careful not to step on anyone. “I WANT to play,” he repeated with emphasis.
“Okay then, you can play, Max. All you have to do is tackle people.” Then, that boy tackled him. Not hard, but enough to knock him down.
The tackling boy then spoke to Max with kindness, as if he were instructing. “That’s how you play, Max. Like that.”
Just as Max stood up, two other boys tackled him. While those two got up to tackle someone else, Max remained still and face-down on the trampoline.
Concerned, I walked closer. “Are you okay, Max?”
Max remained in his position but lifted his head and looked at me with a huge grin. “I’m fine, Mrs. Pechet.”
My heart swelled with gratitude knowing that Max was more than fine. Then that gratitude instantly expanded, first toward the boys on behalf of Max, but then toward all my friends who do the same for me, and soon, toward to every person who helps to include others in their lives, especially when someone wants to share in the fun of life and doesn’t quite know what to do. Thank you.