For five years I have hosted an online chat room for kids with serious illness. It's been my job since 2002. And last night was my last night. My final shift.
"Why are you leaving?'" they kept asking and I froze. I didn't know what to say because how do you tell children you have loved for five years that you're leaving them? How does one say goodbye? Especially when they say, "But we need you... Don't leave us!"
I didn't know what to say last night and I still don't. It took me five and a half hours to say goodbye and it would have taken longer if Hal didn't insist I close my laptop. I could barely see I was so upset. Like breaking up with someone you love because the timing is bad. Breaking up with dozens of someones.
I couldn't sleep last night. I felt horrible guilt because the reason I was leaving was for myself. Because I couldn't work a night job anymore. Because I was sacrificing family time. Because I needed the extra hours to focus on my career. To write and work and promote. Because there isn't enough time in the day to do everything. I left because it was time but how could I say that? How does one type these things without feeling like she is abandoning friends? How does one say farewell to those who are paralyzed, only to run off on healthy legs.
For the past five years I have watched many of the children grow. Graduate High School. Come of age. Go through remission. Heal. I've mourned those lost who fought until the end. I've virtually held hands. Hosted dance parties. Made best friends with those I was lucky to get to know in person: two of the most important women in my life. Lifelong friends. Heroes.
I'm pretty sure my experience working with the children was the reason I was so fearless about becoming a mother. Because I knew I could be a good one. I was confident in my abilities to mentor and guide. I was excited by the prospect that I could one day raise someone just as incredible as the children I got to spend every day with.
I learned a great many things about myself and about life and the world and the goodness in people. I learned that death is not such a scary thing for those who truly live. I learned that helping someone is the greatest way to help oneself. I learned that miracles can happen and great obstacles must be overcome in order to succeed, inspire, mentor, help. I learned that areas of weakness with time (and work) can end up one's greatest strength. I've learned that laughter is the greatest way to heal a broken heart or bone or body. That health is ephemeral. That life is beautiful. That people underneath it all, are good. Nurturing. Inspiring with the most amazing of hearts. Hearts that pump bad blood good. I've learned that the most fragile of bodies are by far the strongest in spirit. I've learned to acknowledge illness as a part of life. Death as a part of life. That our time on this earth must be spent doing things we are proud of. Whether that means providing for a family or following a pipe dream in the dark. Whether that means starting a blog or writing a script or a book that no one will ever see or starting a band or going back to school. I've learned that children and adults aren't so different from one another. And that the only way to earn someone's respect is to give it, first.
Most of all I have learned to be fearless. To turn toward experience and never away. To say yes. As much and as often as possible. To live in the moment. To appreciate.
I don't know if I would have had the confidence to parent, if it wasn't for the last five years working with such amazing children and teens. I do know that I am a better person because of them. I'm a better mother. I have faith in the power of the positive. In love and friendship and the human spirit. In life and growth and what it means to be a child. A teenager. Curious and desperate for adventure.
I'm pretty sure I'm repeating myself now. Because once again, I don't know how to end this post, wrap up my thoughts. I'm ambivalent. And sorry. And excited. And sad. But most of all I'm grateful for everything and everyone. It's been an amazing experience. The very best.