Frankly, there's nothing to write about today except Sammy. Many of us knew him for 18 months as Superman Sam, but yesterday, he was just Sammy, a little boy. He didn't have super-powers anymore; the ninja leukemia got him and even the extra boost he got from the anonymous "SuperMensch" donation of bone marrow cells couldn't beat back the cancer.
Much has been written about Sam and his parents, Rabbis Michael and Phyllis Sommer. Sam and his family even made the front page of the Chicago Tribune today. Much of what was written, however, came from Phyllis herself, who chronicled this horrific journey for us all. I don't think I've seen an act of greater courage than this one, in which both these parents opened up their hearts to the world (for indeed, this story traveled the globe) to see, read, feel and share.
Of course, few can share what this was really like, and if you can, my heart breaks for you, too.
As some of you know, I love taking part in community theater, and have been lucky enough to be cast in shows with wonderful folks. Many of them are younger, with younger children. I hear them speak of the minute-by-minute, energy-draining and energy-giving aspects of living with young kids. It's familiar, in a distant, far-away kind of way. They try to imagine what it's like having older children, like it's some sort of vacation to an exotic land to which they have a deferred ticket, pre-paid. The one thing that's hardest for them to imagine is not knowing exactly where your kids are at every moment.
I mean, when your kids are young, you can pretty much tell someone not only where they are, who they're with, what they're wearing and what they last ate…..and depending on their age, when they last went to the bathroom. When your kids are older, like mine are, I can pretty much tell you….none of that. I can only tell you where and how they were when last we spoke, and only as much as they've decided to shared with me. I'm on a need-to-know basis with my children.
My sister once told me having kids is like one long letting-go. You're so connected at the beginning…literally…and slowly, naturally, you begin letting go the minute they start breathing on their own. If you do it right, the stars are aligned, and you haven't made any major, therapy-inducing mistakes, you're still connected twenty-odd years down the road, and beyond.
Then something like Sam happens. The long letting-go is snapped and your end of the line is left flapping in the wind, lonely and aimless, ragged and bare. People keep saying his spirit lives on, but sometimes that's not what you need - you need to feel the other end of the line, you want to feel a hug or hear a voice; the spirit isn't enough. You want to see how the story turns out, see the child in the adult, because s/he became an adult. Phyllis and Michael, and Sam's sibs David, Yael and Solly, were robbed. The cosmic Scissors cut the line.
When we hear stories like this, we will hug our kids a little tighter, make some calls or send a quick I-love-you text, anything to reactivate the pulse-beat that goes back and forth along that string, just to make sure both ends are still live. Literally. For Sam, his end of the string isn't live anymore; for Phyllis and Michael, as their other kids grow and lengthen the lines between them, there will always be a shortened fragment, buffeted by the wind, frayed at one end. But I know they'll find a way to weave that lone string into the rest of the family's strong, braided story.