Playground Perspective (May 2014)


One of our favorite events to mark the beginning of spring each year is the annual Barn Bash at Starlight Meadows to Cure Cystic Fibrosis. It happens in Burlington, North Carolina, in April and it is absolutely a celebration of life.

You see, my four-year-old niece Caroline is living with cystic fibrosis, and the Barn Bash is organized by friends of her parents as a fundraiser, educational event and celebration. It is also one of the few predictable times on the calendar when Thea can count on seeing her two cousins -- Caroline and her older brother, Baker.

This year was the first year we didn't have to do a lot of event wrangling; the amazing team at Starlight Meadow did so much of the logistical work. It was also the first year that Nikole was not able to attend. That meant that I had plenty of opportunity to watch Thea and her cousins connect and laugh and play.

One of the most beautiful aspects of the relationship between Thea and Caroline is the joy and the tenderness they exude in each other's presence. Watching those two girls connect for the first time in months always melts my heart. "Thea!" Caroline shouts, as they run across the meadow and headlong into each other's arms. Together, their eyes are always shining.

The good news for our family is that Caroline remains healthy and spirited, and that a cure for her condition is really within reach. But Caroline, and other CF survivors around the world, live with a calendar that is very different from ours. Twice a day for her entire life, Caroline has endured her "pats" -- thirty minute blocks of rhythmic patting on her back designed to loosen life-threatening phlegm in her chest. Absent a cure, her life expectancy is half ours.

Which makes every day with Caroline both intentional and precious. And which makes her emotional connection to Thea so important to our family.

It's hard for me not to look in the mirror when I see Thea and Caroline together. There is a rearview mirror in which I see my own cousins, and other relatives, who have grown more distant in, and disconnected from, my life. There is another mirror that invites me to ask how I am choosing to be in my relationships right now, today. "Who am I being," conductor Benjamin Zander asks, "that my child's eyes aren't shining?" (Or my wife's eyes, or my best friend's eyes, or my employees' eyes.)

That mirror is also a window, a way in which I can set my intentions for the future about my own way of being with the people in my life. Treating each relationship, and every interaction, as intentional and precious is impossible work. It helps to have people -- like Caroline and Thea -- to regularly remind me what that looks like in real life.