It’s amazing how instantaneously a sunny sky can turn dark and ominous – and I experienced one of those wrenching emtional reversals yesterday morning. I was walking out of Madison’s Monona Terrace with Dad and Nathan, still on Cloud Nine (or at the very least, Cloud Eight-and-a-half) because of the fine singing which the choir had done for the state music teacher’s convention and the halfway decent job I had done of accompanying them. But in an instant all of those good feelings of pride and pleasure were curdled when my dad told me that my young nephew Kaj had gone into the hospital the night before, a victim of the H1N1 flu which has been such a frightening scourge across the country and claiming lives with vicious heartlessness.
I don’t know if my dad purposefully kept the news from me until after I was done playing for the choir – I sort of doubt he would have thought about that – but no matter the reason he waited, I am so glad he did. I had my hands more than full with some tremendously difficult piano accompaniments and the thought of playing those in front of a room full of music teachers was a bit terrifying. If I had played those accompaniments while thinking about my precious nephew lying a hospital bed, it would have been a complete catastraophe. At least I heard the news after all that playing was done- but it left me in such a daze that I drove through three stop signs in the Monona Terrace parking garage plus I missed the exit altogether. (And I’m not kidding.) And for the rest of the drive to the downtown Sun Print Cafe and all through the meal we shared there, all I could really think about was little Kaj.
Whenever someone that young falls seriously ill, it feels utterly wrong – as though some sort of bizarre rift in the universe has turned things upside down from the way they are supposed to be. A 7-year-old is not supposed to be lay in a hospital bed, fighting for breath. Maybe a 77-year-old who has lived a long life and simply worn themselves out. But not a 7-year-old with so much living yet to do.
And especially not a 7-year-old as precious and gentle and joyous as Kaj. With all due respect to all wonderful children everywhere, I don’t know anyone who has a sweeter or more selfless spirit than Kaj – which is why the thought of this befalling him of all people is so bewildering. And it is not as though Kaj has lived a charmed existence up until now- this is a young man who has endured several surgeries with more very likely in his future, who lives with serious deformities to both hands and both feet and other complications to his health. But when you meet him, you would never guess all of that in a million years. Kaj is so quick to smile, loves to play, genuinely cares about others, and just makes you so glad to be alive. Yes, I’m an entirely biased uncle speaking here, but ask anyone who knows him and they will echo everything I’m saying and more.
So I am mad as heck at whatever little viral demon took aim at my nephew and pulled the trigger and sent him to the hospital, fighting for breath. And I’m haunted by a recent story on 60 Minutes about H1N1 which focused on a vibrant high school football star who ended up in intensive care, literally fighting for his life. The thought that little Kaj is facing the very same enemy is terrifying. And I won’t have a full smile on my face again until Kaj is back where he belongs . . . out in the world, making the sun shine a little brighter on the rest of us.
P.S.- As I finally “go to press” with this blog entry, I’m happy to report that Kaj made a quick and emphatic recovery – is out of the hospital – and in fact felt up to doing a tiny bit of trick or treating late Saturday afternoon. So all feels right with the world again.
pictured above: This is a photo I took of Kaj in the late summer, when I slipped over to Decorah for a quick visit before the craziness of the school year commenced. The image is a tiny bit blurry, but I just love the expression on my nephew’s beautiful face.