I remember my daughters’ hair when they were very young, the soft, fair silk that seemed to gather and radiate light. I could not get their little barrette to stay in place; it would quickly slip along the fine, smooth strands as they bounced merrily away and soon be on the floor.
I remember this because our beautiful passenger this morning has no hair or, rather, has a scalp of short, stiff stubble where soft blonde hair used to be. Her scalp looks like a wheat field looks after the gleaming yellow crop has been cut and carried off. Though it produced rich, golden life, the prickly surface that remains seems hurt and embarrassed by the loss.
Harmony is two years old. Not long ago, she bounced along through the sweet, simple life of a toddler, cherished by her parents and guarded by five big brothers. Her one sister, several years older, had long prayed that God would bring another girl into the family. Finally, He did and in this little kingdom Harmony is the princess.
It was March, in the normal, noisy din of life when things changed. Nine people sat down to dinner and were talking and joking about their day when Jenny noticed a small bump on her daughter’s face. Nothing serious, she thought, but it was a Wednesday night and the family was on their way to church, so Jenny asked the Pastor’s wife to look. There was something strange about the bump, and soon Jenny was at the pediatrician’s office. He thought, at first, that it might be an infection but it did not respond to treatment and, within a few days, Ken and Jenny and their princess began the long drive to the children’s hospital in Grand Rapids.
There, doctors perform a needle biopsy on the bump and the results are not good. After two more procedures to confirm the diagnosis, doctors tell Ken and Jenny that their daughter has a particularly virulent form of cancer. The little bump is a tumor, just one eruption of a quiet biological explosion that is tearing through Harmony’s little body in slow motion, devouring as it spreads.
The grace – and it is hard to use that word here – the grace is that the tumor appeared. More often with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, the evidence of the attack is hidden away inside the child’s body until the time to react has passed. In Harmony’s case, the appearance of that evil bump set off a medical war that, by God’s grace, may still be won.
And here we come into the story, Patrick and I; just two more pilots to provide one more flight in a long series of flights. We drop in over the hills that guard the airport to the north and west and Ken meets us on the ramp. He is friendly but I get the sense that he is inspecting us and our machine, measuring our fitness to carry his precious cargo. Apparently we pass the test and we are soon in the FBO, meeting Harmony’s family and friends.
Jenny is friendly and appreciative, but neither she nor Harmony look forward to the ride. Jenny will be sick for a couple of days, a victim of motion sickness. Harmony will be sick for three weeks, a victim of the vile chemicals that she receives on each trip to Grand Rapids, chemicals that hurt the cancer just a bit more than they hurt her. When she finally feels better, an airplane arrives to take her to the hospital, and she goes through it all again.
Still, she has a shy smile for us, the little girl in the floppy hat, and it is not hard to see why they call her Princess. Soon, she is curled up in the airplane’s worn seat, sleeping through the dull roar of another airplane ride because, I suppose, Mommy says so. It’s all she knows, Jenny says of this strange monthly routine: the taxi rides through big-city streets, the strange smells and long hospital halls, the terrible nausea and the droning airplanes. We do not much relieve her suffering, or Jenny’s. We just allow them to compress it into a single, difficult day, allow them to do more of their suffering together, as a family, at home.
Soon, the airplane is settling onto Grand Rapids’ Two-Six Right. We have a few minutes with Harmony in the lobby at Rapid Air, then we help her and Jenny into the taxi, and then she is gone.
The picture I want to remember, until I see Harmony again, is from a story that Jenny tells. This little princess knows nothing of cancer, really, knows only that it hurts. And at two years old, she knows little of God, really, only that He helps. And so, as Ken and Jenny once traveled the weary road to Grand Rapids, Harmony held out her hands to them and said all that needs to be said, perhaps all that can be said. In Jenny’s words, “Harmony reached her little hands out to her daddy and me, and said ‘Pray’. And we prayed.”
And so we pray, that the Lord of the harvest will in His mercy restore this child, will tenderly guard her little head and repeat in her the miracle He has performed a million times since the world began, exchanging golden radiance for forlorn stubble, giving to her and to her family, as Isaiah says…
“…beauty for ashes, The oil of joy for mourning,
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;
That they may be called trees of righteousness,
The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.”