The girl stared at me in the store, and I honestly felt a bit awkward. I’m walking much better than I used to, but people can still tell there’s something “wrong” with me.
Mike and I moved to the checkout line, and the girl followed. “You feeling uncomfortable?” Mike whispered because he’d noticed the girl too.
“Yes,” I mouthed back. And as I looked up into his face, his eyes squinted with worry and his forehead wrinkled; that man wants to shield me from heartache and sickness—he wants to protect me from the world.
“Your wife is hot!” the girl finally said to Mike. It came out in a strange monotone that could’ve brought tears to my eyes.
Was this a game? I hobble around places, and although I have “personality” and funky Goodwill outfits, I’m not “hot,” and I still struggle with the physical changes I’ve experienced since my surgeries.
“What did you say?” Mike asked.
“Your wife is hot!” She finally came over to me, her baby-blue dress swaying as her beautiful brown eyes and flawlessly young skin practically glowed. “How do you stay so skinny?” she probed.
“Her whole family is skinny,” Mike blurted. “Good genes.”
“I want to be skinny like you though,” the girl said turning back to me.
I didn’t know what to say especially since the whole moment felt incredibly insincere, and I can’t abide that. “You look great…but I have cancer,” I said. “It’s hard to keep weight on when you have cancer.”
Her eyes grew wide, and I noticed at this point that a man had begun darting toward us. He studied the girl with increasing concern.
“Dave,” she yelled and spun, before spotting the man. “I can get skinny if I get cancer.”
Mike and I gawked. “Dave” looked like he might fall over from embarrassment. He glanced at us apologetically.
“You’re beautiful just the way you are,” I said. “You’re gorgeous!”
“And you don’t want cancer!” Mike said.
“Dave” came closer.
“Do people…get better from cancer?” the girl asked him. She batted her lashes and appeared like a porcelain doll.
“Umm, Soph…,” Dave said, “cancer can be hard. Some people don’t get better.” He urged her to come away with him, but she didn’t want to go. At this point, I realized the girl had a mental handicap.
“No,” she shook her head and stayed. “Some people don’t get better,” she repeated and peered at me with new understanding. So much sadness and compassion filled those beautiful eyes. As if she didn’t want to ever look away, she asked, “Why are you sick?”
“It started with a mole.”
“It’s melanoma,” Mike said gently.
“No…but why. Why is this happening. Why do these bad things happen?”
I could’ve said God has a plan or I have peace about my situation, but this girl needed something more. She needed the absolute truth. “I don’t know,” I finally said.
She studied me. “You really think I’m beautiful?”
“Of course. Anyone can see that!”
A cashier called us to her checkout stand. “Wait,” Soph said before we could leave, “You’re strong. Very strong.”
“You’re strong too.”
I knew she didn’t know exactly what she should say. No one REALLY knows why sickness, pain, or even handicaps exist. And I didn’t have any more answers than that sweet girl, but one fact remains: We’re all trying to get through our own struggles the best we can…. We’re each fighting a battle whether other people realize it or not.
I’ll never forget the compassion in Soph’s eyes. In that moment, ‘I’ wanted to shield ‘her’ from the world….