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"Every Little Thing Gonna Be All Right"

October 5, 2016

 

 

How do you talk with a girl who has cancer? I had a moment of doubt as I dialed the number of my friend's 12 year-old daughter Valerie. Her mother had told me that the girl might like talking with me. I didn't know what I could say but thought that I could at least be there for her, to bear witness to her extraordinary situation and respond within the context of that reality. 

 

Valerie was going through some tests and treatments for a vicious form of cancer that was sweeping relentlessly through her young body. When I asked her how she was doing she told me about all the hard things she was experiencing, expressing hope, faith, and confusion. She explained that she was trying to see the meaning in her fate and praying for a miracle. I was absorbed in her words and the incredible courage and wisdom of her little, young spirit. 

 

Suddenly, she surprised me by asking, “So how are you?” I was completely unsure how to respond because I was simply trying to understand and relate to her situation. When I paused to reflect on my own situation at first I felt embarrassed because it seemed so much less difficult than hers. I thought of the problems I faced and they were insignificant compared with the profound circumstances and questions with which she was dealing. I almost said, “Oh, I have nothing to talk about. Everything is fine.”

 

But I knew that would be dishonest and so started to tell her about my kids, one about to graduate from high school and the other about to leave middle school. I talked about my concerns for their lives, how I wanted them to find something that they liked and were good at. I told her how I worried about them taking drugs or drinking, and how afraid I was that they might get hurt driving cars at high speeds.

 

As I spoke I wondered if all these ordinary concerns would be boring for her to hear and she would dismiss them as so insignificant compared to hers. I feared that she would feel bad that I was so lucky to have these ordinary and relatively easy things to wrestle with when she confronted the deepest and sharpest things in life. I worried that she might respond bitterly that at least my kids had a future to think about.

 

But Valerie startled me by singing:

 

“Don't you worry

            about a thing,

'cause every little thing

            gonna be all right." 

 

I recognized it as Bob Marley's Three Little Birds and joined her in a verse:

 

“Don't you worry

            about a thing,

'cause every little thing

            gonna be all right."

                            

I felt that Valerie was telling me that the concerns in my life were important, even if they might seem small compared to hers. She was compassionately teaching me that every day is an opportunity and challenge to find meaning in whatever circumstances we face. For her there was pain, disability and disease of a life-threatening illness. There was also kindness, courage, and healing. For me it was more mundane concerns. But she was teaching me that not only were my concerns “little things” but also her concerns were “little things.” And that we need to trust that "every little thing gonna be all right." We were both dealing with the little things that are small in the grand scale of this life and a life hereafter. She was just more aware and conscious of this than I was and by listening to my troubles she was crossing the great divide between the "dying" and the rest of us, as I too was trying to do. 

 

I was uplifted by our song and went about the rest of my day with a light heart singing:

 

“Don't you worry

            about a thing,

'cause every little thing

            gonna be all right."

 

The cancer continued to progress. The miracle that Valerie prayed for did not happen. Yet she told me that this was all right because she was being called by God to be by his side. Why, she could not know but needed to accept. Valerie died two months later after giving her courageous and generous love to me and so many others whose lives she touched. She taught me to see our troubles, both mundane and profound, in a warm and light-hearted manner as "little things" that would "be all right" and melt away in the warm embrace of eternal love.

 

 

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