Her hair swirled around in a fashion any grown woman would pay good money to have. Her hands were tiny and nearly perfect, but for the scratch she had on one from playing with the boys.
"Boys play hard," she says. "But I can, too!"
She'll do just fine in the world with that attitude.
I first saw her when I was staying with my 18-year-old son Keith at the Hershey Medical Center. He was there for another round of chemo. She was there because her older sister had had a relapse with her own cancer.
I would often walk the halls when Keith was resting. The long journey through cancer begins with the first step in a hospital and often continues while walking the halls in the middle of a sleepless night.
In the early evening I would sit in an open area where four hallways met. I loved watching people come and go. I would wonder why they were there and who in their life was fighting the big fight.
This little angel would oftentimes join me there.
I would smile each time I saw her as she came around the corner. She always carried a small cotton tote bag with pictures of Elmo and the Sesame Street friends printed all over it. Inside would be a collection of her favorite books, a coloring book, and crayons nearly worn to the end.
I surprised her one day with a brand-new box of crayons in the latest colors.
She sat there quietly pulling one out at a time never saying a word.
I waited for a moment and asked, "Do you like them?"
She smiled at me and said, "Yes, thank you."
"I couldn't tell if you did," I said to her.
"Oh, yes, I do. I was just in my 'happy place.'"
"Your happy place?" I asked.
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I waited for a moment before fishing for more information. She sat in the big chair, her legs stretched out before her, her book across her lap.
"What's it like there in your happy place?" I finally asked.
She smiled and looked around the sitting area.
"It's bigger than this," she said. "It's a whole place."
"Why is it happy?" I asked. She wiggled her feet, put her book down, and looked right at me.
"Nobody is sick."
Over the next few months, I would see her sitting in that same chair. I met her parents and some of her family. I treasured my time with her because her beautiful spirit helped me to get though the difficult moments.
Early one evening when my son was very ill and somewhat restless, I walked down to the sitting area in hopes of seeing her there. She was, but she was playing with her friends.
I sat in the corner removed from it all, lost in thought and in and out of prayer.
"Where are you?" I heard a sweet voice say.
"What? What do you mean?" I replied. She was standing next to me.
"You're here. You need to be in your happy place," she said.
How do you get there?
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"Well, do you want to play?" she asked.
I struggled with the thought of having fun while my son was so ill. Then gave in to her bright smile. "Okay," I said.
"Close your eyes," she urged. "Now, think of the happiest thing you can."
I pictured the days when Keith was as small as she. I remembered the fun we always had together doing silly things.
"I see you smiling!" she giggled.
I opened my eyes and the other kids with her were looking at me. Each had their own special smile that made me feel more relaxed.
"Do you want to play?" she asked again.
"Yes, but you know what? I need to go play with my son right now," I said.
"Does he still play?" she asked.
"In the story 'Alice in Wonderland,' the Queen said, 'Never turn your nose up at nonsense.' He loves to play even at his age," I told her.
She nodded her head and said, "He's your happy place."
She was right.
I invited her and all of her friends down to meet Keith. After a while you wouldn't have known he was sick. He loves children. The first thing he had asked the doctor the day he learned he had cancer was, "Will I be able to have children?"
I'm happy to tell you there is no sad ending to this story. Both my son and the child's sister have won their fight.
Now, nearly ten years later, we are all living in our own happy place.
I hope you have one, too.