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Posts Tagged ‘sickness’

 

‘You’re too heavy!’ the little girl in pink overalls hollered to the Adult sitting vaguely on the downside of the see-saw. The bright sun glared into the Child’s wide blue eyes, blinding her into even greater frustration. “I-can’t-get-down!!!” she wailed. By now she looked as frazzled as she felt, pink cheeks hotly flushed and pink bows coming loose, long sweaty strands of dark hair spilling onto her warm forehead.

The woman was utterly distracted. She couldn’t hear the Child screaming frantically above her or see her legs kicking wildly. Angelica’s mind was saturated with the news of her diagnosis. How could she possibly process all that was happening to her? A thousand medical appointments. A million medical professionals, each one wanting her to read this, sign that, test for this, decide that, start this, finish that. Now this. Then that. Panicked, she had begun to run, desperate to escape all that this illness had begun to take from her and suddenly demanded of her.

All morning, her feet had pounded the ground: left-right-left-right-this-that-this-that. But when she passed through the thick forest and neared the bright playground, her long adult strides slowed into small, simple, child-like steps. For the briefest moment, she was no longer a cancer patient, but a healthy, blissful child once more, dancing in the sun. Relief washed over her, and Angelica eagerly scanned the playground to find the little lost girl – a younger, healthier version of herself.

Past the slippery slide. Past the swings. Past the flying fox. What Angelica needed desperately was something that would help her to find her balance again. Finally she saw where the Child sat expectantly on the old wooden plank. Her eyes sparkled with anticipation, longing to be raised high into the air. But the very moment Angelica had thrown one leg over the see-saw, her tired mind retreated in despair. ‘This MRI, that biopsy, this chemotherapy, that radiation …’

“No!!!!” the Child screamed. “You only just got here!” And while Angelica’s body was on the see-saw, the little girl knew the Grown Up’s mind was already elsewhere, spinning wildly on the round-a-bout of this-that-this-that-this-that. Panicked, the Child closed her eyes and began to chant a desperate prayer of colours. “Blue-red-blue-red-blue-red.” She squinted through long lashes and spied a faint flash of blue, then a bright blur of red, moving through the forest that surrounded the playground.

Angelica was beyond exhaustion. Overwhelmed. She closed her weary eyes, tempted to pray for some kind of miracle, but found herself too depleted to open them again. The Child glanced quickly down at the Adult, then began to chant once more: “Blue-red-blue-red-blue-red.” She kept her eyes scrunched closed but knew in her heart that the colours were moving closer. Her feet no longer flailed wildly but began to swing lazily in the gentle, magical breeze.

“Blue-red-blue-red-blue-red,” she began to giggle, the fear leaking, then pouring, out of her heart. She could see the colours starting to glow brighter than the hot sun through her closed eyelids. And as Angelica issued a silent prayer like a petition to some distant physician, she knew in her heart that all she could do was just sink down into the fullest depths of her despair. Just slide off the see-saw and into the dirt. Just disappear into the mud she would make with the million tired tears that promised to drown her. There was no point fighting it anymore.

“You’re here,” the Child whispered, slowly opening her eyes to see a strong boy wearing a long blue coat and a beautiful girl with eyes like the clearest rubies, balancing their way with arms outstretched up the plank towards her. The three children straddled the high end of the see-saw, their weight still insufficient to raise the almost lifeless adult. The girl in the red dress smiled calmly while the boy reached deep into his pocket. Something seemed to flicker softly in his hand. Then just as her darkest thought prepared to consume her, Angelica felt a soft breeze brush against her face, then another by her ear as though something lighter than a snowflake had landed on her shoulder.

Though her eyes stayed closed, she knew she was being flooded with colour and she sensed the sequence strongly. ‘Blue-red-pink. Blue-red-pink,’ she whispered over and over again. The colours felt like butterflies, hundreds of them, landing on her shoulders, opening and closing countless wings again and again to cool and soothe her troubled soul. “Blue. Red. Pink,’ she intoned even slower still, breathing into her lungs each colour’s unique magic: ‘Strength. Clarity. Hope.’ Angelica’s heart had never felt lighter, and the lightness began to lift her off the ground.

When she opened her eyes, they were dazzled by the intense mosaic that covered her shoulders, arms and legs like sunshine streaming through a cathedral’s stained glass windows. Her disbelieving gaze followed the exquisite creatures in their thousands up the full length of the see-saw, now splashed with bright splotches of colour. The decaying wooden plank had become a living rainbow, a blissful bridge between adult illness and child-like awe and wonder.

When Angelica’s eyes reached the end of the bridge, she found herself gazing into the faces of three small children who sat in perfect balance opposite her on the see-saw. She watched as the boy released endless butterflies from the pocket of his long blue cloak. Strength. Clarity. Hope. The words did not spin round and round inside her head like this-that-this-that-this. Instead, they soared blissfully up then delightfully down, then blissfully up again.

From that point, Angelica’s feet only ever touched the ground for the briefest of moments before being carried skywards by the gentle rainbow of butterflies. Yes, she would come down to earth for this surgery or that chemotherapy session, but the butterflies would always lift her again. She surrendered herself completely to the mosaic of life and light and hope balanced delicately on her shoulder, as it lifted her weightlessly skywards once more.

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Today I saw a paper boat afloat upon a stream.

The sight of it transported me inside the sweetest dream.

It carried me from where I stood, on muddy banks nearby,

Towards the bright horizon that divided land from sky.

 

The soul inside me lifted from the dark place I had been,

Cool water washed over my mind, and all that I had seen

Was now infused with life and light where turmoil once had reigned,

And at that point I knew my life should never be the same.

 

Where once each thought was plagued with doubt, now certainty had come.

I watched now as the paper boat turned slowly for the sun.

It sailed its course relentlessly, whatever waves may crash,

And I too set a forward course with no more looking back.

 

How can a boat of paper navigate the ocean wide?

How can a fragile child like me find courage not to hide?

A dim and distant silhouette gives me the hope I need

That paper boats can surely float across the wildest seas. 

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Angelica turned uncomfortably in the bed, but without the sense of disorientation that had steadily dissolved the longer she had been confined to sleep in this plain room by herself.  Twenty one long days and restless nights had somehow started to feel ordinary, and whatever world had continued to spin without her outside the hospital seemed nothing more than a faint, sweet dream between the endless, unscheduled meetings with doctors, surgeons, nurses, pathologists, specialists, counsellors, dieticians, physiotherapists and more.

In the haze between asleep and awake, Angelica became vaguely aware that some distant light was just starting to bathe the landscape painted on the other side of the large window, well beyond her reach. Today would be no different. The endless stream of nameless faces would soon begin to flow through her room to remind her of her poor health and utter helplessness.

Slowly, as though stepping from one level of consciousness to the next, she woke more fully to realise, no – this day was NOT just like every other. She could not find any words inside her tired mind to explain how today would be different, but the dawning day somehow seemed  infused with greater anticipation than Christmas morning.  As Angelica’s eyes focused and refocused from the ascending steps of sleep towards greater clarity, a surprising addition to the bright mural on her hospital room wall commanded her attention …

Of course, there were the massive tree with its widely outspread branches – stronger than ever, thanks to an amazing friendship  that could survive even life’s darkest hours – and the silhouette of the three children whose unique joy gave the tree its life and colour. Angelica and her friend had painted this mural with their words over the past three weeks, a fanciful escape from the banality of the stark walls that had become her prison.

But now the mural was made of more than words and daydreams. It seemed to have transcended the realm of imagination, and now it appeared to be painted permanently across the long wall that had  previously taunted her with its stark, mind-numbing bareness.

Brushing her fringe from her eyes, Angelica sat herself slowly up in her bed, (for she was not yet completely strong or quick), donned her soft dressing gown and made her way gingerly towards the mural. ‘What kind of dream is this?’ she wondered, as the sterile stench of antiseptic evaporated, giving way to the lush smell of moss and bark and freshly fallen leaves that filled her lungs with promise.

Angelica ran her hand across the tree trunk in the centre of the mural and marvelled at how the wall’s flat matt paint transformed now under her palm, filling it with a solid, round metal handle. She turned it slowly, feeling the trunk door creak slowly open, inviting her to leave the confines of the hospital room, to enter a world infinitely more inviting and familiar.

Peering through the door into the dreamworld beyond her room, Angelica felt a glowing warmth against her cheek, infusing it with a pale pink flush that had not been present for some time. Yes, she could feel the sun on her face, and she inhaled the fresh air greedily as though it was hers to breathe for the very first time.

But the warm glow was layered. Somewhere between Angelica and the bold, bright sun, there was a small, square table covered by a bright blue cloth. The table was adorned with a large metal tree, beautifully sculpted by some master craftsman, each of its sturdy branches showcasing a small leaf-shaped candle.

‘This is exquisite,’ she whispered to herself, ‘I wonder how it came to be – a tree within a tree?’ Then there was the subtle smell of fresh cut roses, and a gentle hand rested upon Angelica’s tired shoulder. ‘Don’t you know what today is?’ the kind, familiar voice whispered back. ‘This is no ordinary day, my friend.’

Then somehow – in a way that can only happen on the most blissful days when one is filled with the most potent sense of hope and belief – the cobalt cloth seemed to transform itself into a long blue cloak. And there he stood before the two girls – the magical white-haired boy. His face beamed towards his friends in the flickering light of the candles that glowed upon the metal tree.

‘This is no ordinary day,’ the boy spoke, echoing the words his love had uttered only moments before. ‘You found the handle I painted for you on the trunk of the tree. But you haven’t yet realised that the door only opens in one direction. Now that you have left your hospital room, there is no going back my friend.’

The beautiful girl who smelled like roses sighed gently. ‘We  lit these candles to keep vigil for you until you could return. See how they have brought you back to us?’ Her smiling eyes sparkled like rubies as they always did when she felt things deeply.

Angelica’s mind flooded with a wash of wonder. Was any of this real? Somehow, everything had the quality of the sweetest dream, and for a moment she shut her eyes, fearful that she would awake back in her hospital bed if she dared to open them.

But moment after moment, this world became more real, and Angelica’s heart filled with a potent certainty that the hospital room she had inhabited for the past three weeks had begun to decay into little more than a dusty delusion.

She opened her eyes, and immediately they were drawn to the shiny silver tree with its small collection of glowing candles. She counted them curiously. Eleven. And recounted them – eleven again. Why did this feel so … strange … as though there was something she must somehow fix?

Perplexed, she pushed her fringe from her eyes again, then rested her hand deep inside the pocket of her long dressing gown, only to draw it out again quickly in an attempt to determine the nature of the object she had unexpectedly found there. She rubbed her fingers again and again over the small, waxy object before understanding what it was and why today would truly be no ordinary day.

Slowly, she discerned the reason the room that had contained her for close to a month had dissolved this morning with the tentative turn of a tree trunk’s handle. She made her way towards the metal tree on the table, finding the one solid, silver branch she had not noticed before which was not yet aglow. Resting the tiny, leaf-shaped candle upon the small flat of the final branch, Angelica began to remember the significance of the day – June 13th – and closed her eyes, preparing to make a wish.

No – it was not her birthday, but she drew breath and blew gently towards the twelve candles, finding them all now lit and glowing brightly rather than extinguished when she opened her eyes again. The faces of her two friends appeared before her, magically luminous in the light and warmth of the twelve glowing leaves, now burning with all the intensity of Angelica’s relief that she had managed to free herself from the stark, sterile hospital room for such a momentous occasion.

‘My friend,’ Angelica addressed the boy in the long, blue cloak, ‘ Today is no ordinary day. Yesterday you were eleven, but today you are twelve. I light this candle to honour you on your very special day.’ A rare tear began to form in her eye, as she realised that her confinement had prevented her from finding a suitable birthday gift from her friend. The lovely rose girl standing nearby squeezed Angelica’s hand gently, reassuring as always. All that she said to the white-haired boy was also true of the beautiful girl who now stood so closely beside her.

‘My friend,’ Angelica continued, ‘You have given constantly to me in my time of need the things I needed the most. Loyalty, encouragement, inspiration, wise counsel, a listening ear, positivity and strength – in summary, you have offered the truest, purest friendship I have ever known. You have been there beside me in the darkest moments of my life, and have always been there to celebrate with me in better times, as you are truly here even now.’

‘I can never repay your friendship,’ Angelica sighed, feeling slightly inadequate as she sometimes did. ‘All I can do is offer you my deepest friendship in return.’ Her two dearest friends smiled at each other, knowing that sometimes she felt a little overwhelmed by all that she had been through and all that was still to come. Like trees, they each reached their branches towards her, filling her with their compassion and strength.

‘I do not quite know how to leave the bare walls of that stark room on the other side of the tree trunk behind me. I do not know how any single moment of my path will unfold as I reenter this magical world of colour and life and light. But the two of you have taught me many important lessons, and this is one that I shall never forget.’

‘Today is unique and tomorrow will be too. Each day will present challenges that may threaten to overwhelm me, but when I lack strength, you two will lend me your strength and help me to climb. This I know with certainty and is something I shall never doubt. I only regret -‘ Angelica lowered her eyes momentarily from the warm gaze of her friends, ‘that on your birthday, I could do no more than add the final candle to your birthday tree.’

‘You still don’t understand, do you?’ the boy in the blue cloak spoke gently, moving towards the twelve tiny candles that danced like tiny, shiny stars from the silver tree on the tabletop. ‘When you awoke this morning, you saw the mural I had painted for you, and you found the handle on the trunk to leave that other world behind you for good.  I don’t need to blow these candles out to make my birthday wish. That was my wish, and see how it has already come true?’

Angelica felt her courage grow stronger within her, coursing through her veins like strong, milky sap through the sturdy trunk of the tree. She knew that she had sometimes worried too much and perhaps at times even worried about the wrong sorts of things. She closed her eyes and felt the warmth of the twelve tiny candle leaves glowing onto her face once more.

And though the candle wishes were not hers to make, she knew that her friends would understand. One by one, she blew each of them out, wishing for peace, courage, acceptance, patience, strength, laughter, health, lady bugs and dragonflies. She wished for friendship that would never falter and that her precious, eternally young friend would have the best twelfth birthday he had ever had.

Angelica counted and recounted these wishes in her mind. Eleven. There was one more wish to be made, the most powerful wish of all, saved until last. She closed her eyes once more and wished with all her heart that this would truly be no ordinary day.

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Just two days after having the largest of her five tumours removed in surgery, Angelica was ecstatic to finally pull herself out of her lumpy hospital bed and into a soft chair beside a window, looking out across the nearby rooftops in the direction of some distant grey  mountains. She was not comfortable, but she was satisfied, just to know that she had somehow found a small reserve of strength to lift her body and her spirits and to know that her recovery was truly underway.

The past forty-eight hours had been little more than a blur to her. There were conversations and visitors she could barely remember at all, and other vaguely whispered questions that echoed inside her clouded mind like a carousel of dusty dreams, like ‘Have I had surgery yet?’, followed again and again by the exact same question only moments or hours later. She was relieved to feel a scrap of colour return to her paper-white cheeks with just a few licks of a cool icy-pole, and now finally, dressed in her own nightshirt instead of the rough, hospital issued wrap-around, she felt that she was finally returning to and reclaiming some small part of her own pre-surgery self.

She smiled at the small nightstand in the corner of the otherwise dull private room, covered entirely with orange and yellow lilies, peach gerbras, red carnations and glittery apricot singapore orchids. Then there were the helium balloons that always followed her to lift her out of her darkest moments – a pixie flying with wings and wand outstretched, pointing beyond the window, inviting Angelica to fly outside. A second bright balloon, rounder than a bubble, was adorned with happy golden fish and coral and a treasure chest, cheerfully emblazoned with the words ‘Hope You’re Feeling Better’. And every moment, she did feel better, and stronger, and somehow more alive.

Her eyes moved across the nightstand to see a small teddy bear dressed like a bumble bee, a pink dolphin and a purple octopus, a magically scented cloth rose and a life sized cut-out of a Disney mermaid, smiling with enormous blue eyes back to her where she sat in her chair. A large canvas artwork formed the backdrop to this all, hand-drawn by her best friend, Langley, representing all the characters in all the stories they had written together over many months past. There was the magical white haired boy in the long blue cloak, with the girl in pink overalls with pink bows in her hair on his left and the beautiful girl in the pretty red dress on his right, all staring far into the picture towards the enormous Friendship Tree. From its branches dangled an empty swing  and the delightful ladybug, dragonfly and butterfly mobiles the three children always loved to decorate the branches of their beloved tree with. Nearby, a ladybug, a butterfly and a dragonfly sat quietly perched atop of their respective flowers. A red  rose sat sheltered inside a glass dome beside a golden path, and the ears and tail of a red fennec fox could be spied just slightly emerging from a golden field of wheat.

In the far distance, there was an Ivory Tower, threatened by clouds but decorated in rainbow paint by some rescuers who knew how destructive that tower could be to the princess trapped inside it. A sheep cloud, a candle and a Book of Dreams appeared to be suspended in a vast blue sky that hovered in stillness over a white paper boat that floated past the Island of Lost Children, governed by a Little Prince, the hero of yet another magic-filled story. A starry night sky filled the final top corner, glistening with stars that were full of wishes just waiting to be wished. Each nurse and visitor to Angelica’s hospital room would gravitate towards the canvas, asking ‘Who did that? And what does it all mean?’ ‘This is the tale of the mighty Friendship Tree,’ Angelica would reply, her eyes sparkling with the knowledge of many stories told and many still to be written. ‘This is a Tree rich with the fruit of imagination, a testament to the fact that True Friendship is one of the strongest forces that can be imagined.’

Outside of this canvas, Angelica knew that the days, weeks and months ahead would present her with a myriad of challenges, the like of which she had never faced before. Yet for her, the treatments to come – the many months of recovery, radiation and chemotherapy that would put her life on hold and challenge her to the fraying edges of her courage and strength, were abstract and ephemeral compared to the world that came to life now on the canvas on the hospital nightstand. This world was vibrant, magical, powerful and whimsical. It could never fail to restore her faith, hope and delight. There was powerful medicine here that could completely bring her tired body back to life.

The light that shone through the hospital window and onto the canvas was filled with promise that one day – soon – every aspect of life would be vibrant and colourful once again. Now here came the orderly with her free-fluids dinner: some bland pumpkin soup, red jelly, lemon sorbet and a small tub of custard. Today, she had begun to eat again, even if the bites could only be tiny ones, and tomorrow she would begin to write again, crafting passionately magical, whimsical words to hang like butterfly mobiles from the branches of her beloved Friendship Tree.

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    Angelica sat upon the large, dark, damp circle not too far from the water’s edge. She had expected to wade into the water to find the glistening treasure box of shells again, but here they all were, gathered strangely and almost dry, as if waiting for her to come and sit quietly, to seek and sort and sift. This time, the sun did not sparkle onto the tiny jewels, bringing out of them the radiant fire of colour and the sparkling illusion of life. The sky was grey, a reflection of her own dimly lit soul, for she had just learned that she was very sick again and fat drops of rain threatened to fall in the place of the self-pitying tears she refused to cry.

    The tiny shells, thousands of them, formed a cushion around and beneath her. She unclasped the silver chain around her neck, with its shiny Friendship Tree medallion, diamond butterfly, sparkly pink rose and the long dragonfly charm set with small square pink stones, all reminding her of the dear friends who had so often been within arm’s reach, those she cherished the most. But today she sat on the beach alone, searching for those shells that were special, pretty and strong enough to be threaded onto her silver chain.

    ‘When I am trying to recover, to beat this illness again,’ she explained to herself, ‘this will be my way of keeping the ocean close to my heart, giving me life and strength.’ She knew that it would be a very long time before she would be well enough to dive again beneath the nearby pier that seemed now to fade into a distant fog before her. ‘No, I will not be here with you,’ she sighed to the ocean, ‘So I must take part of you there with me,’ and she searched and sorted and selected those tiny, treasured trinkets that would carry all the fullness of the ocean inside them around her neck.

    ‘Did you think I wouldn’t come?’ a sweet voice spoke softly behind her. And looking up she saw the beautiful girl in the flowing red dress move like a dream towards her, an unexpected sadness in her eyes. The girl was older than she had ever been before, full of elegance, grace and understanding that had somehow come through transcending all the trials and suffering of the past. ‘How she inspires me,’ Angelica breathed, rather than whispered, and instinctively she held out the silver chain, asking the girl to ‘Choose’. Carefully the girl with rubies for eyes perused the small collection on the chain and selected a pearly shell with a soft pink hue.

    ‘I will take this one to remember you by,’ the beautiful girl smiled, ‘But in its place, you must take these two.’ And she threaded onto the chain a long, dark spiralled shell and one that was tiny and almost perfectly round, like a child’s plastic bead. ‘The first,’ she explained, ‘reminds you that your path will be dark and windy, but that you will never, ever walk it alone. The second – ‘, she paused, as though hesitating to find the words, ‘will remind you that life is simpler than we sometimes think, and that when you see it through the eyes of a child, you realise that there is nothing to be feared.’

    A magic breeze blew gently across the water and up onto the shell-strewn circle, and with it the girl in the red dress carrying the scent of roses vanished and Angelica’s most magical friend, the white haired boy, appeared. ‘Please give me that shell there,’ he pointed to the chain, ‘For it is small but very strong, the same colour as my hair. And in its place, I leave you this – ‘, his eyes threatened to swell with rain, and indeed at that moment, a cold rain began to fall steadily and the boy in the long blue cloak dissolved from sight. Angelica looked down into the palm of her hand where he seemed to have placed an intricately folded note on pale blue paper.

    Her first instinct was to open it, to see what magical words would be written inside, but then she knew without doubt that this paper must never be unfolded. Standing carefully, for it pained her now to lift her body up from the dark, shell-encrusted circle on which she sat, she moved with all the courage she could muster down towards the water’s edge where she sent the tiny paper boat out on its unfathomable journey. She watched as it bobbed, threatening to be overcome by the smallest wave, then surfaced again to travel the length of the misty pier, almost disappearing from view.

    ‘What’s that?’ she heard the smallest voice beside her, then felt a tiny hand reaching up to hold her own. Here was a child she had never seen before. A true child – maybe five years old, with long dark hair and kind, mischievous eyes – not just a child in spirit. ‘I’m Autumn,’ the child explained, and as she spoke, her words smelled like the sweetest rain and falling leaves. ‘You are very sick and I have come to bring you joy.’ And despite the pain that gnawed at her body like a towel being wrung dry between one’s hands, Angelica reached down and lifted the child high into her arms, and they squeezed one another tightly that they might give each other strength that would last each of them their lifetimes.

    Setting her gently down again, their eyes locked them deeply together into tiny waves of laughter, like the ones that carried the paper boat off into its happy journey. Hand in hand, Angelica and Autumn ran from the water’s edge, the sound of the shells dangling around Angelica’s neck chiming like the ice in a sweet summer’s drink. Together they skipped away, away, up onto a rolling green hill where they collapsed together in a delightfully messy pile of the sweetest giggles. Angelica wrapped her arms around the child, feeling the strong, young heartbeat pounding blissfully against her own. Yes, she was tired and sick, and when she closed her eyes, she could almost believe that right now she was just a step or two from heaven.

    Angelica sighed, breathing in the crisp Autumn air, the nearby sea breeze and every sign that, at this very moment, she was still quite fully alive. It would be many months before she would be strong enough to return to the water’s edge, to search once more for tiny shells or to slide again beneath the long, misty pier like a bright fish, full of energy and possibilities. But for now, this one moment of life was enough, and she would take it like the shells around her neck with her into whatever the next moment might hold. She felt herself float and disappear like the tiny blue paper boat. It was no longer within her view, but she knew that it was still on its adventure into unknown waters and she determined, with everything within her, to see her voyage through to its mysterious, unknowable end.

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Though I am broken, tired and worn and sickness forms the darkest cloud,
I’ve found a star to wish upon, and dare to wish my wish out loud.

Though slower now than I once was, I found the strength to climb this Tree
And felt the heart within me leap to see that star shine down to me.

It’s cold up here – an eerie breeze blows through the branches without leaves.
It’s been some time since I could climb, but I’ve found what I’ve come to see.

A wishing star set high up in the velvet cloak of darkest sky
Is sparkling down, offering one wish, and giving me the strength to try.

I muster all the strength I can, all energy towards one end
Then find that it’s already true, my only wish – to be your friend.

Though I am weak, I will draw strength from words written high in this Tree
And I will draw from the deep well of words that you’ve written for me.

You know I’d spare you if I could just find a way to set you free,
But you’re the truest, kindest friend, and that’s not what you’d want from me.

So meet me here, high in this Tree, please someday soon with your widest smile.
The Grown Up in me needs to move aside and make way for the Child.

Let’s sit and talk and laugh and play as though our youth can have no end.
I wish for nothing more and nothing less than just to be your friend.

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The little girl with pink bows in her hair sat by the window in quiet contemplation, her back resting against a shiny satin cushion on her favourite plush pink chair. Most other days, she would run and play and laugh with delight as she suspended herself upside down from the sturdy branches of her beloved Friendship Tree, alone or with one or both of her dearest friends. She smiled gently at all the fond recent memories that swirled now like blissful butterflies through sun-dappled, day-dreamy meadows. How she loved more than anything to spend time with her two friends – the pretty girl with the dancing eyes and ruby lips, and the magical white haired boy in the long blue coat – hearing the funny stories they made up and seeing the wonderful smiles that beamed like sunshine from their sweet, lovely faces. Their smiles and their words were always so generously given and they worked like medicine to make her sometimes tired heart happy again.

Blinking herself back from memory into the present moment, she sighed to realise she had not seen her friends for some time, then in the next moment she realised that this was not entirely true. She had seen them briefly several times, crossing paths with them for a few brief moments here and there, but the exchanges had been more like fireflies than candles – so brief and so fleeting! It seemed as though they had snorkelled quickly over the surface of things, but never somehow found the time to dive deeply, to explore, to talk and think out loud on any deeper level. ‘They probably think I don’t care anymore,’ the child whispered to herself, ‘I truly hope they know they are wrong.’

For in truth, the little girl had longed with all her heart to laugh and run and play again, to be nothing more than the playful Child without a care in the world. But life had crowded in on her, and lately, the bright bread of time had seemed to turn into dark, meagre crumbs. It took all her effort each day to gather even just a few of those crumbs together, to send them to her friends, all dressed up like dreamy, creamy little cupcakes, all pretty and sparkly and sweet with pink frosting piled into happy swirls, higher than the cake itself. Her dear friends inspired her to reach lofty heights, to climb every tree to the highest branch, and to peer out through the thick blanket of leaves and send a twinkling giggle up into the dark night sky to join the glittering stars. ‘And yet,’ she thought, now back upon her favourite pink chair by the window, ‘I would not trade the two of them for all the stars in the galaxy.’

Yet here she was, and the two apples of her eye were nowhere in sight. She knew they would be off playing, running through a field somewhere or climbing into the Tree together. Perhaps they would pass all the pleated paper butterflies she had hung from sparkly string on her favourite branch. They would brush their hands across the strings, sending the butterflies into a wistful illusion of flight. ‘She hasn’t been here for so long,’ the girl in the pretty red dress would sigh. ‘Do you think she’s gone forever?’ The white haired boy would shake his head uncertainly, then with confidence that grew like the tree’s greenest leaves, small and supple, with all the secret life of the bigger leaves inside. ‘No,’ he would reply, ‘She is small but we know that she is strong, and she is the most loyal, true and abiding friend that we could ever have. I do not know where she been hiding lately, but she can’t be far.’ Then something would catch his eye, which would make him catch his breath and exclaim, ‘Look!’

As if on cue, the children watched in awe as a pale white paper butterfly appeared inside the tree’s thick canopy of leaves, fluttering now above the branch where so many other bright paper butterflies danced on the slight bright breeze. ‘That must be the magical breeze our friend spoke of so often,’ the girl in red whispered in wonder. ‘I’ve seen so many of her paper butterflies dangling here, but never any so frail and pale! Where is its colour?’ she lamented, a gentle tear forming in her eye. The boy beside her put his hand out flat, and sensing the invitation, the white butterfly lifted itself -with some difficulty it seemed – to drop limply onto his outstretched palm. Somehow, it did not seem entirely well, and although they could not let the thoughts that filled their minds take form upon their lips, the girl reached out to clasp the boy’s other hand, and both wondered how long such a fragile creature might be destined to remain upon this earth.

‘I think this butterfly is dying,’ the girl in red started to sob softly, the compassionate heart within her starting to break at the sight of the fragile creature with wings that seemed to lose strength with each passing moment. ‘We are all dying,’ the white-haired boy replied, ‘It is part of being alive. But no, this little one shall not die, at least not yet.’  The girl in red brushed away the last tear that had fallen onto her cheek, for she knew that this boy that she loved with all her heart always carried a special kind of magic hidden in the deep pockets of his long blue coat. The white paper butterfly had now faded almost to grey, and all the strength it had used to land upon his open palm seemed now to have sapped from its tiny body as it lay, lifeless, in his hand. Without disturbing it, he motioned the girl he loved with all his soul to reach inside his pocket, and she was both very surprised and not surprised at all to pull out a long paintbrush from the boy’s magical coat.

‘I think I understand,’ she told him softly, ‘But then again, I don’t. Maybe you can paint it back to life, but where will you find any paint?’ The white-haired boy looked so deep into her eyes, she thought he had fallen into her soul. ‘My darling one,’ he replied, ‘That is where this little butterfly will need your help more than mine. You have the most beautiful heart in all the world, and your tears are more precious than every gemstone that has ever been found, for the love in your heart is the greatest treasure known to man or beast.’ His gentle words, so full of adoration, moved her heart deeply – how loved she was by him, and how much compassion seemed to pour out of him towards the lifeless, winged creature upon his palm. A single, clear tear, purer than any diamond, rolled from the corner of her eye, collecting the rosy hue of her cheek as it moved towards the paintbrush the boy now held in his hand.

Gently, the boy dabbed the soft pink watercolour onto the ashen butterfly. Astonished that her tear had added such a delicate tint to the lifeless creature’s wings, a second tear escaped the girl’s beautiful blue-green eyes, and caught once more upon the paint brush in the boy’s hand, a sparkling sapphire was layered over the wash of pink, and the palette began to build upon the butterfly’s form. A wave of hope flushed the girl’s cheek red, and now the brush caught a ruby tear as the boy finished painting the mosaic of rainbow colour – pink, blue then red – onto the butterfly’s wings. Still it did not seem to stir, but the illusion of life was breathtaking. ‘You’ve made it look alive,’ the girl spoke, her voice a mix of admiration for her beloved boy and infinite sadness for the butterfly that could not be revived, even by all the watercolour tears in all the world.

The white-haired boy looked deeply into the watery pools of blue-green eyes, now overflowing onto his beloved’s cheeks in coloured drops too numerous to catch. The soul within him stirred to find the words that would help her to understand that life would always be very short but very beautiful. He deeply wished he could have painted the butterfly back to life, so instead, he tried to paint his love with words:

My dearest love in all the earth
How precious are your tears.
Compassion runs so deep in you,
Despite all of your fears.

The colours flow like priceless jewels from
Deep inside your precious heart.
Though life is sweet, it is so short,
An end to every start.

And as she crumpled into his arms, high up in the tree, neither noticed that their painted paper butterfly had disappeared – dissolved? – never to be seen again. ‘If only our little friend in pink had been here,’ they spoke between sobs and sighs, ‘Surely she would have known how to bring that poor little butterfly back to life.’  But they had not seen her for such a long time – now only the pleated paper butterflies that she had folded with care and hung from her favourite branch with glittery string danced to remind them that she had ever been in this tree at all.

Far away, but not entirely too far, their much-loved but little seen friend with pink bows in her hair sat by the window in quiet contemplation, resting against the shiny satin cushion on her favourite chair.  That instant, the subtle sun of morning had given way to bright bursts of light, streaming through the window glass. Slowly she stood, and desperate to feel more of the sunshine, more directly on her face, she opened the window wide to let the bright beams kiss her skin. She closed her eyes and inclined her face towards the sun, letting it soak into her skin, lifting her spirits far above the room in which she had been resting. The sun flickered as though through water, dancing and smiling so that she smiled too and all her woes seemed to utterly dissolve. She breathed the warm air deeply into her lungs, renewed and revived by the life-giving elements.

Looking deeply inside her heart, she could not help but bubble with joy, knowing that each moment of life was indeed a tremendous gift to be celebrated. Yes, she may be alone right now, but she would not allow herself to feel lonely. The memory of her two dearest friends, probably this moment climbing and laughing together high inside the thick canopy of leaves of their favourite tree, caused her face to give way to a delighted smile. One day they would all find a way – somehow – to play together once more. Their presence would warm her heart again, just as the rich, golden sun now warmed her face and arms. Taking one last, deep breath, she opened her eyes again and pulled the window shut. She would sit again, just for a few moments, before finding the strength to make her way from her room to all that life demanded of her. She counted her blessings as she often did, finding that each day they were more numerous than before. ‘My friends. The sun. My room. This chair.’

And as her eyes fell upon her favourite chair, one more unexpectedly bright blessing presented itself to be added to the list. A magnificent butterfly with wings so vibrant they looked newly painted, rested quietly upon the soft satin cushion. And though she had often thought that butterflies were fragile, destined to adorn the world with their beauty for only the briefest of times, this one seemed so strong, so full of radiant light and life. She opened the window one more time, then cupping the beautiful creature gently in her hands, she guided it out to where the sunlight intensified the glittering hues of pink, red and blue on its wings as it flew – as she knew it must – disappearing in the distance like a bird towards the magic forest. ‘I must follow it there’, she knew with certainty, climbing now as children do through the open window, running with all her might down the well-worn, much-loved, never forgotten path towards The Friendship Tree. There – she hoped – she might find the magic butterfly and her beloved friends once more.

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