By Rev. Msgr. Steven Ferrari
They entered the hospital elevator right behind me — father and child, hand in hand. I asked, “What floor?” I was going to the 14th; they were heading to the 18th. I pressed both buttons with my knuckle.
It struck me as a bit odd that, besides a large wide-brimmed floppy hat, the small child wore a mask that covered so much of his face. I didn’t think that was required for one so young. But of course! All those who enter Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center on 74th Street in Manhattan must still don a face mask.
In the quick ride up in the elevator, I wondered why this father brought such a young child with him to the Cancer Center. As if the boy read my mind, he suddenly said, quite self-confidently, “I’m here for me, not my daddy. I’ve been here before, to check my skin.”
Very much surprised, I glanced at the young father’s face, and saw the anxious, and sad, concern in his eyes. Then the little boy said proudly, “It was my birthday on the 14th. I’m 6 now. And tomorrow is my daddy’s birthday.” The father patiently and softly corrected, “His birthday was May 14th.” (This was June 25th.)
I wished the boy a ‘Happy Birthday’ as the elevator doors opened on the 14th floor and I stepped out for my six-month check-up. I have been cancer-free for two-plus years now. I reflected on how the “little man” held himself so self-assuredly. Yet so much to handle at such a tender and innocent age. Would that I had exhibited those same trusting qualities three years ago when I was diagnosed! But, then again, he has his father to protect him and hold his hand. As did (do) I. My heavenly Father got me through it all as well, never letting go of my hand.
I prayed for the boy, his father, and family, for surely my heart was aching for them. Here I am in my 70th year of life, whereas his life’s adventures have just begun. So much to go through and deal with that he may never fully understand.
In those few brief moments and in his own simple way, that unnamed little boy reminded me again of the lessons of trust, faith, hope, and love. “Unless you turn and become like little children …”
Msgr. Ferrari is the pastor of St. Teresa’s Parish, Woodside.