One afternoon, when you could no longer walk on your own, we were coloring at the kitchen table. I glanced at my watch and realized I was late. I stood up.
“Sorry, Chika, I have to go.”
“No, no,” you protested. “Stay and color.”
“Chika, I have to work.”
“Mister Mitch, I have to play.”
“But this is my job.”
“No, it’s not!” You crossed your arms. “Your job is carrying me.”
I have thought about that sentence more than you could imagine. At the time, I laughed it off as you being your lovable, bossy self. But the more you weakened, the more you needed me to transport you even across the room, the more I realized the wisdom of your words. Your job is carrying me. That line became the underpinning of the final item on my list, maybe the biggest lesson you taught me. What we carry defines who we are. And the effort we make is our legacy.
The first week of February is traditionally Super Bowl week. For sportswriters, this is a big event. I had covered every Super Bowl since 1985. Thirty-two years straight. It was something my newspaper expected me to do, and I’d actually grown a bit proud of my little attendance streak, figuring I’d keep it up until I retired. But I didn’t go in 2017. All the things I had carried before, all the work that had once seemed so critical, had come to a halt, dumped out like a flatbed emptying its contents. When that week arrived, signaling your twenty-first month of battle against your brain tumor—which put you on the furthest reaches of DIPG survival—you were in a different place than at your birthday party a month earlier. The tumor, as Dr. Van Gool put it, “had grown quite scandalous.” You could no longer eat on your own, so a feeding tube had become necessary. At first, they tried one that went through your nose and down your throat. You yanked it out when no one was looking. (Honestly, part of me wanted to cheer you. Who would want such a thing?) But that only led to a more stable version, a G-tube that was surgically placed inside your abdomen. Every day and every night we would load new bags of liquid food and run them through the stand-up pump, down the tube, and into your belly. We also infused medications through your PICC line multiple times a day, sterilized it, flushed it with heparin, tucked it under the small white sleeve on your arm. We nebulized peryllil alcohol through a plastic tube in your nose.
I don’t know how you handled it, Chika, all the apparatus. But even with all that, even with your precious voice reduced to a few grunted sounds, you were still you. You would dip your head ever so slightly to show me which doll you wanted to sleep with at night. You would wave a wobbly hello when we FaceTimed with the kids in Haiti. One time I was coughing badly, and your eyes turned to me, and Miss Janine said, “He needs someone to smack his back. Chika, do you want to hit Mister Mitch?” I leaned down, and you tapped me three times. The day of the Super Bowl, I was sitting on your bed, flipping through movies for you to watch. I read the titles out loud and you didn’t react until I came to “Mr. Peabody & Sherman.” You raised a thumb. So I watched it with you. At one point in that movie, Mr. Peabody, a dog, goes before a judge to adopt his protégé, Sherman, a boy. The judge asks, “Are you sure you’re capable of meeting all the challenges of raising a human?” And the dog says, “With all due respect, how hard can it be?”
What you carry is what defines you. It can be the burden of feeding your family, the responsibility of caring for patients, the good that you feel you must do for others, or the sins that you will not release. Whatever it is, we all carry something, every day. And for all your time with us—as you so defiantly stated, Chika—my job was carrying you. My job was—and is—carrying your brothers and sisters in the orphanage. My job, it turns out, after so many years without them, is carrying children. It is the most wonderful weight to bear.
All proceeds go to Have Faith Haiti Mission & Orphanage.
From “Finding Chika” by Mitch Albom [email protected], ASOP, inc.
Courtesy of Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.