The Hand of Compassion
Jacqueline was the epitome of a young girl full of life and energy. Butterflies covered her bedroom walls, a pink comforter adorned her canopy bed, and coloring books were scattered around her room. Her light-as-a-feather figure gracefully captured her free spirit as she danced around her Barbie playhouse. However, during a tea party with her dolls, Jacqueline’s fate changed with a single terrifying phone call. This bubbly, blue-eyed six-year-old would trade her golden locks, porcelain complexion, and strength for endless days of chemo and radiation treatments, forcing her to face the mirror and see the reflection of her opposite: a sad, lonely girl with sunken eyes and an intravenous line hooked into her arm. Nothing in the English language changes a child’s life like the six-letter word cancer.
An unfortunate series of many broken promises began with her parents’ assurance that everything would be okay; no shots, no pain, no worries. Each second felt like hours as their little angel was imprisoned in a sterilized room with equipment making rattling sounds and doctors wearing hygienic white coats. Whimpers of discomfort emanated from Jacqueline’s throat, sending the two people she trusted most to collapse into prayer, asking God for help. They waited alongside their fragile daughter, held her hand, and knew that as much as they wanted to scoop her up, take her into their arms, and release her suffering, they simply couldn’t.
The nausea and churning torture Jacqueline felt eventually weakened not only her physical state, but also stripped her vibrant personality. However, faith for a better tomorrow became a reality when a spark of hope illuminated the room in the form of a young volunteer. Jacqueline’s somber “I don’t think anyone knows I’m alive” attitude was erased the moment a red envelope was slipped into her tiny, fragile hands by a bubbly teenager with a contagious smile. Jacqueline eased her index finger through the seal and pulled out a fuzzy bear card that instantly transformed her into a wide-eyed girl with enough energy to bounce on her hospital cot while singing out loud.
As a volunteer, I spent countless hours at the age of fifteen strategizing my wins against Jacqueline in Monopoly while watching princess movies with butter-crusted popcorn fingers. Our connection evolved into a sisterhood where doctors, nurses and technicians referred to us as “joint-hearted sister queens.” During these roller coaster years – treatments, remission, relapse, more treatments – Jacqueline fought this deadly beast with an optimistic attitude knowing I was her greatest cheerleader.
Kids confined to a sterile setting suffer from the absence of interaction with others, which causes their condition to decline. Outside observers see a child with deep bruises, but they don’t see or understand the bruised heart that medication cannot heal. Doctors can’t prescribe love; it’s typically left to a volunteer to fill this prescription by restoring the patient’s dreams. Volunteering shouldn’t be another chore that needs to be checked off the to-do-list, but instead an opportunity to give time, energy, heart and spirit to someone in need. Children like Jacqueline all around the world can have the same spark of inspiration if we have more teens open to volunteerism.
Teenagers begrudge the desire to volunteer because schools have made it a requirement to complete seventy-five hours to graduate. Students don’t see volunteerism as an option because it has become another required form of involvement. Instead of fudging their volunteer hours, mumbling about not being paid, and walking into scenarios with a negative attitude, teens should consider the benefits earned from making a difference. Unwilling gestures of contribution will only harm the process of changing a crying, scared child into a happy, fun-loving kid. Teens need to realize this isn’t a race where whoever completes the most hours will receive an award and extra recognition on their resume. As volunteers, we have the ability to ease other individuals’ agony of pain and make their day brighter.
Devastating setbacks coupled with small victories is what transforms teenage volunteers into compassionate, humble young adults who understand the real meaning of living life to the fullest. Youthful volunteers can change the outlook of a dark situation by stepping into someone else’s shoes to learn their perspective. Showing concern for an issue is where the passion of curiosity mixed with giving allows students to get involved with people through volunteer organizations. Feeding the homeless, teaching at inner city schools, helping as an assistant sports captain or volunteering with children in the pediatric oncology unit are vital roles in making the community successful.
It has been two years since Jacqueline has been cancer-free. “Now, I see a rainbow, but what a storm it was – you never left my side,” she told me. Those crucial moments in the hospital gave me the courage to squeeze her sweaty palms, gaze into her eyes, and through silent communication show empathy that provided the security blanket of warmth and hope.
You never know where you’ll be tomorrow. Volunteer today to make an impact on someone’s life, and tomorrow someone else could be volunteering to help you.