Rochester, MN – You never want to see an ambulance on a runway, but there it was, strobes flashing, EMT’s busy over the little body on the stretcher. Stunned, the pilot turned away, walked back toward his airplane, fished out the last of the bags and stacked them on the pavement.
The flight had gone well, and Rochester was just over the horizon when the girl’s father rushed to the cockpit, yelling that something had gone wrong with the baby’s breathing. Peter had done what he could – had radioed the emergency to air traffic control, had pushed the nose down, pushed the throttles forward, pushed the airplane as fast as it would go. Touching down, he immediately shut the engines off as the ambulance roared up behind him on the runway, then he opened the airplane and got out of the way, let the medical people take over.
A few minutes later, a slamming of doors, a puff of diesel smoke, the growl of the ambulance rushing away toward Mayo Clinic. Peter watches them shrink into the distance and, suddenly, the runway is very quiet. It is two days before Christmas, and he had been praying for a miracle for James and Margaret and their little girl. Anything but this. He turns back to his airplane, hears his tired steps scrape over the pavement, feels an empty feeling.
* * * *
Chicago, IL – Two hundred miles away, a volunteer at the cancer center tilts her head slightly to meet a child’s eye, then smiles and reaches for his hand. Megan, the volunteer, knows the child’s fear because she’s been there herself. She reaches with her left hand because her right hand doesn’t work. She tilts her head a little because her right eye doesn’t work. She smiles because life is good – no matter what cancer has taken away from her – and life is never so good as when she is leading someone else out of that dark valley.
She doesn’t measure her life in what she has lost, but what she is able to give, and mostly what she gives is hope. “I’m fortunate,” she says, “because I don’t have any memory of being able to see out of both eyes or having the use of my right hand, so adjusting to it was easy.” Megan has an unusual concept of easy, and an unusual determination to contribute.
This is her third job supporting cancer victims – the best way for her to serve until she finishes her second teaching degree. After that, she hopes to help sick kids learn. Her mom says that, even with the disease and the surgeries and their side-effects, Megan always wanted to do things herself. Having already survived three cancers and earned a master’s degree, it’s clear that adversity has not changed her mind.
* * * *
Back in Rochester, on Christmas Eve, a surgeon at Mayo walks into the waiting room, meets Margaret’s eye. She stiffens, holds her breath as he prepares to speak, then relaxes a little when he nods and gives her a grim smile. The procedure was successful. They have removed the tumor. Margaret’s two-year-old daughter is already down one eye and perhaps scarred from the surgery, but there is still hope. A few minutes later, James calls Peter and gives him the miracle he had been praying for.
It was flight number three for Peter’s new project – which Joan, his wife, had named “Wings of Mercy”. The child’s survival feels like a validation of his vision, a memory to hold up against that empty feeling you sometimes get in dark valleys, even when you are trying to do the right thing.
Margaret knows that feeling all too well. She found the first tumor when her baby was only ten days old. The following year, there was another, and now this. Margaret has spent much of the last two years in hospitals, sitting at her daughter’s bedside, or pacing brightly lit halls, or fretting in waiting rooms, her head jerking up each time someone comes through the door.
There is, sometimes, a feeling of great hope. At other times, there is just the quiet, the questions, the need to walk on, not knowing where your steps will lead. Like Peter, she and James are trying to do the right thing, not knowing what comes next, but maybe that’s how holy things feel in this hard world. If there is an angel choir, you cannot hear it. Just the sounds of your shoes scraping on the pavement, or squeaking down a long hospital hall, a door swinging open to bring good news – or bad.
* * * *
Chicago, IL – Megan finishes her session with the patient family and waves as they file out the door. She pauses for a moment to remember what it was like when she was, herself, that sick and scared. She remembers how her mom, Margaret, was always there and always so proud of her, remembers the story Margaret often told about Christmas in 1991, when Megan was just a baby, and a pilot named Peter rushed them to the hospital on the day she nearly died.
They were stubborn, these people who had fought for her life, with little to encourage them but love – pressing on through silence and darkness and doubt, as if moving to the music of another world.
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul…
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me
Megan Alexander is a remarkable woman, an accomplished supporter of cancer victims, and Wings of Mercy Patient #3. Read more about her here: https://imermanangels.org/…/behind-matches-vital-role-cance…