Sometimes, the smallest of things can make a big difference in the way you think. It may be someone’s laughter, or someone’s tears, someone’s hopes, or someone’s fears. You can’t predict that moment, and that’s the best part about it. It’s the unpredictability that makes that moment better than anything else.
This past week, I’d been really low. Being a fresh graduate applying for higher studies, I was in the ultimate state of confusion and uncertainty that is part and parcel of post-grad life. I was unsure about my opportunities, worried about my future, and impatient about every little thing. Hence, I sought refuge in one of my favourite places in the world – the oncology ward at the Children’s Hospital in Lahore. I’d spent a lot of my time with children suffering from cancer, and they’d always given me inspiration and hope.
As I entered the oncology ward, I was, as always, greeted by a screaming kid who recognized me from a past visit. This time, it was Mariam, a 15 year old girl suffering from leukaemia. Mariam had been admitted to the oncology ward a year back, along with two of her younger siblings, who also suffered from blood cancer. I remembered her youngest sister Ayesha from a previous visit, and the cat that she made out of cardboard and decorated with wool. I hugged the little girl, and asked her where her two younger sisters were. Her eyes filled up with tears, and she told me both of them had now died.
It’s always sad to get to know that the child you once played with had finally succumbed to the disease. But this was something different. Something more painful. It was the sorrow in Mariam’s eyes that pained me. The three sisters were always together, and now, she was left alone in this battle. In addition to blood cancer, Mariam had also developed diabetes, adding more complications to her situation. Her mother was a carpet-weaver, and her father had met with an accident two years back, after which he had lost all his senses. Needless to say, the family’s financial situation was not strong, and it was further exacerbated by this disease.
Despite all these problems though, despite the grief of losing two sisters, I still saw hope and faith in Mariam’s eyes. She was still thankful to God for all she had. She excitedly brought the cardboard cat that Ayesha had made with me around 6 months back, and told me she always kept it beside herself as a memory of Ayesha. She told me not to be sad, because Ayesha and Amna (her other sister) were now at a better place, relieved of all the pain. She told me to keep doing what I was doing, since all those paintings they drew with me brought a lot of joy to all the patients there.
That moment was like my own personal epiphany. I remembered all the brave kids that I’d met at the oncology ward. Raza, a 10 year old exuberant child, who flirted with all the doctors, and earnestly told me he was willing to leave his girlfriend for me; Ali, who posed enthusiastically for all the pictures, but was even better behind the camera; Ayesha, who loved painting, and would happily paint the faces of all the volunteers who went to the hospital to spend time with the kids; Ansar, reserved and serious, always the responsible one; Pashmina, the beautiful little pathan angel, who couldn’t understand our language, but smiled every time we gave her the paintbrush.
All these children are dead now. All of them. But you know what? I don’t find it sad. I really don’t. All these children knew they were suffering from a fatal disease, but they still faced the situation bravely. They were my little warriors, who lived each day as if it was their last, and thanked God for every blessing that they had. If these eight to fifteen year olds can be hopeful and thankful, it’s a shame that we can’t be. It’s a shame that we lose hope on the littlest of things. Hence, I came back from the oncology ward, hopeful and grateful for all my blessings, with a resolve to live each day as if it was my last.