This is a story that is loosely based on a real story. I hope you enjoy it.
| There are times when the vastness of the universe makes it easy for anyone to feel as insignificant as a grain of sand. We have all felt this way at one time or another, and it can sometimes be hard not to feel small and lost, but sometimes things occur which remind us that the world can also be a very small place. This is such a story.|
When my daughter Shannon was five, she was an exceptional child. By then, she had been reading already for almost two years, but it still seemed to me to be an amazing thing when she finished the book, "Little Women" by Louisa Mae Alcott. Unconvinced that a child her age could really understand such a work, I quizzed her on the novel and was amazed to discover that she had actually understood what she had read! A few days later we were walking through the local mall when Shannon noticed a display in the window of one of the bookstores. In the display were the book she had just finished, and a porcelain doll dressed in the clothing of the period.
"Look daddy! It's Louisa Mae Alcott! Can I have her? Can I? Please?"
I walked over to look more closely at the doll, and noticed a price tag hanging from the bottom edge of the doll's dress. It was priced at $112 dollars, which was a bit more than I could afford at the moment. "I'm sorry honey," I said,
but I don't have enough money to buy that for you now. Maybe if you save up all your money we can come back and buy it for you another time."
She smiled up at me. "Really! How long will that take daddy?"
I shrugged. "Well honey, that depends on how hard you work to save the money. There's your allowance, and I'm sure I can find some chores around the house for you to make some extra money. Maybe it won't take that long at all if you are willing to work hard for it."
She smiled. "I know daddy! Anything worth having is worth working for, right?"
I chuckled, pleased that she could mirror the values that my wife and I had worked to instill within her. "Right!"
Few five year olds have the attention span and determination to stick with such a project, but my Shannon made me proud. The darling worked very hard, never losing focus on her goal, and in two short months had managed to amass half of the amount she needed to purchase the little porcelain doll. At that point I decided to match what she had earned, so she would no longer have to wait to get the doll. Besides, who knew how much longer the store would continue to carry that particular display in thier window. It would be a shame if she had saved the money she needed only to find that the doll was no longer available.
The next day, after I picked her up from daycare, we went to the mall and purchased the doll. I was so proud of her, and I can't describe how wonderful it felt to see the look of joy on her face. She was rightfully proud of herself, and ecstatic to have finally obtained the object of her desire. On the drive over to pick up her mother from work, she clutched the doll closely, examining it's every feature from top to bottom.
We finally arrived at my wife's law office, and Shannon could barely contain her excitement as we went through the front door. She couldn't wait to show her mommy the fruits of her labor, and immediately bolted across the waiting room towards her mother's office in the back. I just smiled and shook my head.
It was then that I noticed the room's other occupant for the first time. It was a man, wearing what once may have been a nice suit, but which was now rumpled, stained and dirty. There was dirt smeared on his face, and by now I was beginning to catch a whiff of his rather strong body odor. He obviously hadn't bathed in several days. The funny thing was that he seemed like he might be a fairly good looking man, though at the moment his face looked puffy and swollen, as if he had been crying. I nodded toward him as I headed back towards my wife's office, but
he seemed lost in his own world, and didn't seem to notice.
"Daddy! Daddy!" Shannon exlaimed as she and my wife entered the room. "Mommy says she's real proud of me too!"
Before I could reply, there came a muffled sound to my right and I turned to find that the man I had seen before had raised his fist to his mouth, biting down as if to stifle a cry, and with tears streaming from his eyes he jumped to his feet and ran from the waiting room into the street. I turned to my wife, raising one eyebrow in question. She shook her head sadly. "I was appointed to be his public defender for today. It's a really sad story. His wife and daughter were killed in a car accident two months ago. He left the hospital wearing the same suit he had on today, and has been wandering the streets like some lost soul ever since. He won't talk to anybody, just keeps breaking down into tears periodically. He was arrested for vagrancy last night, and I was next up on the PD list, so his case was assigned to me. He really needs to be hospitalized for some mental health help, but all the judge could do was fine him since he didnt seem to be a danger to himself or anyone else. It even turned out that he had the money to pay the fine in his wallet." She looked toward the door sadly, and said, "Poor man! I wish there was something we could do for him. I don't know what I'd do if I lost you or Shannon!"
Shannon, looking so sad it almost made me want to cry, tugged at her mother's coat, and asked, "Mommy, what was the little girl's name?""
My wife's lovely brow crinkled for a moment. "I think her name was Jane, honey, why?"
"No reason mommy. I just wondered."
As we walked out the door, and my wife turned to lock up the office, I saw that the man hadn't gone very far. There he was, sitting on the bench by the bus stop, next to the parking lot where our car was parked. He sat with his elbows on his knees, his head in his hands, crying hard enough to make his torso shake. As we walked toward the car, Shannon suddenly stopped, and looked up toward my wife and I, a look of deep sadness on her face. "Can you wait here for a minute?" she asked. "I have to do something." I had no idea what she had in mind, but was curious, so I decided to indulge her and nodded.
Slowly she walked over to the bench where the man sat crying. She stood there for a moment, as if uncertain what to do, then hesitantly reached up with her small hand and patted him gently on the shoulder. He raised his head from his hands then and looked at her, and when he saw who it was, he paused in mid-sob.
"I'm really, really sorry that you lost your wife and little girl mister. I know that I would cry a lot too if I ever lost my mommy or daddy. But I don''t think Janie would like it if she knew that her daddy was so sad for so long. She would want you to be happy, and not be alone." Reaching forward with the doll, she placed it gently in the cupped palms where his head had rested just moments before. "This is my doll. Her name is Janie too, just like your little girl. She always keeps me from feeling alone, but I think you need her now more than me. You take her.""
I walked up to stand next to her. "Are you sure you want to do this honey?" I asked. "You worked very hard for over two months to get that doll".
Shannon nodded seriously. "I'm sure daddy. He needs her more than I do now. He needs to not feel alone any more." Then, taking me by the hand, and without another word, my wonderful little daughter led my wife and I back toward our car. Leaving the doll she had worked so hard to benefit a complete stranger was one of the most unselfish things I had ever seen a child do, and my heart swelled with pride. I looked back toward the man and saw him sitting there with a look of stunned wonder on his face. He seemed to have completely forgotten that mere moments ago he had been crying like a baby. I looked at my wife, and we shared a smile, and I could see that she was every bit as proud of our daughter as I was.
* * * * * * * * *
In the two months following the incident at the bus stop, the main change in our lives was that Shannon finally started school. As I expected she would, she loved going to school every day and was doing well. Every night she would come home with some new story of what had happened at school that day, and we would sit down to dinner as she told us of this wonderful new life she was experiencing, and of the new friends she was making. It was truly one of the highlights of my day to listen to her eager telling of the days events, and often my wife and I would hold hands as we listened to her rattle on, both of us feeling a contentment that was as unexpected as it was wonderful. Things continued on in this fashion for a few weeks, and then everything came tumbling down in one tragic moment.
I was sitting at my desk one day when the boss stuck his head in the doorway. "Dan, can I see you in my office for a moment?"
After clearing things up on my desk, I headed back toward the boss's office, wondering why he would want to see me so late in the day. As soon as I walked through the door to his office I knew that something was REALLY wrong. Especially after I saw the look on his face. "Uh, um.....w-what's up boss?".
"Sit down Dan," he began, then paused, looking uncomfortable. I sat looking at him inquiringly, waiting. "Dan I just received a call from Glenview elementary school. I understand that your daughters class was out on some sort of field trip today?"
All of a sudden, a feeling as if some monstrous hand were reaching into my chest and squeezing my heart possessed me. "Y-yes," I stammered, "We had to sign a permission slip to allow her to go on a field trip to a petting zoo today. D-did something happen? Is she ok?"
He sighed heavily, a look of grave concern on his face. "I'm sorry, Dan, but from what I gathered, one of the lambs from the petting zoo got out of her pen and wandered out into the parking lot. Shannon say it, and went after the poor thing.....and, well......there's no easy way to say this Dan.......but, Shannon was hit by a car!"
Suddenly I couldn't breathe. My vision went dark and it seemed for a moment as if I were falling forever, and then I heard a loud snap, and when I came back to myself, I looked numbly down to see that I had broken off the arm of the chair in which I had been sitting. I sat staring at it for long moments, trying to comprehend what was happening. It seemed as though my mind were mired in molasses until I felt my boss's hand on my shoulder. "I know this is a great shock Dan, I don't know what I would do if it were my Claire. She's been taken to Trinity West hospital. Under the circumstances I don't think you should drive, so I am having Steve from Shipping and Receiving drive you over to the hospital."
To this day, I remember nothing of the trip to the hospital. My mind seemed to sink into some sort of numb lethargy that precluded thought. The first thing I remember is seeing my wife's face as we arrived in the surgical waiting area, and I have to say that I hope to never again see such a look on her face. The sight nearly broke my heart into a million pieces. We fell into each other's arms and cried for what seemed like an eternity. Then, finally, a nurse came out to tell us about our daughter.
"Your daughter is in surgery now," she began, "and her injuries are quite serious. Her left shoulder, collarbone and arm are all broken, but these injuries are not that serious. She has a concussion as well, but at this point there doesnt seem to be any indication of brain damage. The most serious injury, and the one which concerns us the most, is from a fractured rib that has pierced her heart." At this point my wife gasped. The nurse continued. "Fortunately for Shannon, one of the country's best heart surgeons has just this week returned to the hospital after a three month sabbatical, and he is at this moment doing everything he can to save her. If anyone can save her, it will be him., but for now all we can do is wait. The surgery will take several more hours, but I assure you that we will keep you updated as soon as it is possible to concerning her condition."
Then began the interminable wait, with the minutes seeming like hours, the hours like days. All we could do was cling to each other and pray for some miracle to save our daughter. During that time, of course, I made all the standard offers of a deal and promises to God. I railed against the fates, and blamed myself for every wrong that I had ever done. I experienced denial and anger and all the stages of grief, and in the midst of all this I remembered again the day that my daughter had given her doll to the stranger at the bus stop. For the first time in my life I think I began to understand the feelings and sense of loss that had assailed that man, and I found myself wishing I had been more sympathetic to his plight at the time.
Finally, the nurse who had spoken to us before returned. As we looked up at her, I am certain she could see the desperate hope we carried before us like a shield. "Mr. and Mrs. Morris, the surgery is completed and your daughter has survived it. Doctor Stewart was the primary surgeon and he has asked me to escort you to his office, where he will more fully explain everything you need to know. If you'll follow me."
As we followed the nurse to Doctor Stewart's office I found myself wondering what this meant. I was happy to know that she had survived the surgery, but found quite a bit of trepidation in the knowledge that the nurse could not immediately tell us more. I was afraid that this did not bode well for what we would learn of our daughters fate. The nurse led us into the office, and my wife and I each took one of the two seats in front of the large desk. My heart was beating wildly and my armpits were drenched with sweat. My delicate wife gripped my hand with a bone crushing force which belied her diminutive form.
I looked anxiously around the room while we waited. It was a good sized office, bigger than my own, with a large oak desk and the standard diploma's on the wall. There was also a good sized library of books stacked on the shelves built into the wall behind the desk. It contained everything form medical journals to fiction novels. It was then that I noticed the one incongruous thing amongst the books that lined the shelf. It was a doll, but not just any doll. It looked exactly like the doll that Shannon had given the man at the bus stop those months ago. Same color hair, same color dress. A small placard rested at the base of the doll which read, "Janie". My wife must have noticed it at the same time as I, for she looked at me with one eyebrow raised questioningly. It was at that moment that the doctor entered the room.
The doctor walked over to the chair behind the desk, sighing as he sat, and reached up to remove the surgical cap from his head. He looked exhaused, and his face was cleaner, but suddenly I realized that this was the very man to whom my daughter had given the doll that day at the bus stop. My wife and I looked at each other, both wearing the same shocked expression, and then he spoke.
"I want you to know that it was touch and go for awhile, but Shannon is a very tough little girl. It will be a few months before she is back to her old self, but barring any complications, she will be just fine." He paused then, giving us a long look, then swiveled his chair around and reached out to grab the doll. Turning back toward us, he set the doll on the desk between us, and said, "Three months ago, I thought my life was over. I was lost in a whirlpool of grief and despair, and didn't care whether I lived or died; but then something happened." He reached out and touched the doll fondly, smiling. "A rather remarkable little girl, make a rather remarkable gesture, and gave me back my life. I thought it only fair that I return the favor. Thanks to Shannon's gift!"
It was then that I realized that we are more than just specks of sand in the vast universe. We are all tied together in ways that we cannot always see, but in ways that somehow seem to make the universe seem so much smaller. We are not alone. I find comfort in that realization.