On November 17th at 2:08 in the morning I got a text from one of my besties Kristen in California that read:
“Meg- we need serious prayers for Sage. Huge mass in her shoulder by her lungs. Waiting for transport from ER to CHOC. Please….This is a nightmare.”
St. Patrick’s Day will be four months since that text was sent to me. Four months since 12 year old Sage complained of shoulder pain and a seemingly routine visit to the doctor’s office turned into four months in and out of the hospital in treatment for a extremely rare sarcoma. It has been four months of constant, daily prayers and love for Sage and her family.
During the past four months, Heartworks also started our daily gratitude practice of listing 10 things a day for 30 days without repeating anything. The idea of this exercise is to help us get out of the rut we can often find ourselves in, thanking God for the same few things over and over again. Not that I am against this… gratitude is gratitude, but I wanted us to move from the rhetoric of gratitude to a deeper witness of how gratitude truly does change us when we allow it to.
One of the things that I came to appreciate in the past 30 days that I NEVER, EVER thought would make the list is…. emojis. Now, a few years ago when people first started using emojis, I was filled with irritation and judgment. Like “Really??? Now we don’t even have enough time to text full sentences??” We need pictures representing our emotions ?? “ (Insert eye roll emoji here…)
I grew up with a father who LOVED the English language, LOVED the history of words and LOVED their meanings. For as much as my dad was trusting and laid back about our education (he felt that we were blessed, blessed, blessed to live in this country with every educational choice available to us), he felt the need to make sure we practiced our vocabulary.
Vocabulary was not only celebrated in our house, but we grew up with a father who thought practicing vocabulary was FUN. He thought it was FUN to learn, review and discuss random vocabulary words over breakfast and throughout the day. I’m not talking about reviewing our weekly required vocab list from English class, I’m talking about this set of little business card sized vocabulary flashcards he had found in a bookstore somewhere.
He didn’t care if it was Saturday morning and I had been out the night before in the parking lot of Friendly’s with a 2 liter bottle of wine cooler and he didn’t care that my girlfriends who had slept over did not have an interest in the definition, root or origin of the word “aggrandize.” Or that they actually did NOT find coming up with a synonym for “sagacious” fascinating while they ate their pancakes and nursed a hangover. He loved words and all that they had to offer, and if you were staying for breakfast, you were going to get a lecture of his newest word interest, whether you were interested or not.
We did not have a color television in our house until I was a sophomore in high school which was in 1985. TV meant two things to my dad,less time for reading and less time for being creative and affective in the world. I think Brain Rot may have been a phrase that was thrown around a bit, even when The Brady Bunch, Star Search, and The Wide World of Sports were really the only things we were allowed to watch. Thank God he isn’t here today to walk in on me watching The Batchelor and The Housewives of Potomac (insert yellow cringy face here).
So although he had been gone a few years when emojis came on the scene, I still felt like a cheater, cheater, pumpkin eater using them. It felt like a betrayal to all those mornings I found so irriatating in my youth (which, for the record, I would give anything to wake up to now…. no matter how many wine coolers I had chugged the night before.) I definitely felt like his daughter when I found myself thinking, when I saw my first emoji, that it is pathetic that as a culture, it was now acceptable to abbreviate the depthful gesture of “I love you” with a yellow smiley face blowing a heart out its mouth or a simple red, purple, green or blue heart.
If my daughters felt sad about something, I wanted them to go total old school and actually CALL ME so we could talk about their sad feelings instead of them sending me a little yellow face with blue tears streaming from its eyes. Or at least express themselves with words instead of dismissing the adventure of sorrow with a sad face emoji. When something upset or disappointed them, I wanted to hear about it instead of getting sent a picture of poop. (This is what happens when your mother is a therapist…she requests descriptive words and phrases describing your feelings in place of pictures of perfectly formed poop with eyeballs.)
All this judgment and irritation changed when Sage got sick. Later that day, on November 17th, I received the first of hundreds of emojis that would be exchanged over the next four months. Kristen sent me a kissy face with a red heart next to it. No words. Just a kissy face and and a red heart. But what I saw and interpreted was:
“Hi Meg. I’m in my worst fucking nightmare. My only child is sick. I have no idea what the future holds and I can’t breathe. Nothing seems real, it feels like a dream but I know that its not because even when I close my eyes and open them again, I’m still in a hospital room. Life as we knew it ended yesterday and I can’t breathe through the fear. I love you and I need support. I’m besides myself.”
But because she could not bring herself to type these words (typing makes things real), she typed the two emojis, knowing I would understand what they meant. And so this is what we have done every time there is no word to use, we send emojis. I have come to know and love these little images as if they were angels, sent from God, to offer my friend relief and ease in her worst and most exhausting moments. They began to feel like highly evolved, emotionally connected friends offering us help to communicate this new ground of horror and grace…
Smiley faces when Sage tolerates chemo without getting sick.
Dog paws when she misses her animals after not being home for a few days
Thumbs up when blood counts are good
Thumbs down when headed back to the hospital after only a day at home
Crying face, teeth gritting face and a winky face when the house flooded on her birthday
Clapping hands when something Heartworks sent brought a smile to Sage’s face
8 crying faces in a row when sitting in a packed hospital hallway, surrounded by more children with cancer than available beds
and lots of prayer hands…asking for and receiving prayers…
and on and on the emojis go, filling word bubbles from across the country at all times of day and night. Seemingly silly images seriously aiding the rhythm of a 20 year friendship and offering us concrete expressions in a reality where all words, forms and definitions are lost in current circumstances.
So one day a few weeks ago, when I was making my gratitude list and had already thanked God for Sage’s doctors, medical technology, hope, miracles, a restful night at home, some laughs during the day for Kristen and Dave and had thanked God for the all the support surrounding them, I found myself thanking God for emojis. Thank you God for symbols which have allowed my dear friend and I to communicate when for the most part, there are no words. Only hearts. And crying faces. And most of all, prayer hands. Thank you God for prayer hands.
This St. Patricks Day while the streets of New York City become a sea of green and the sound of bag pipes fill the air, Sage will be in surgery at Sloan Kettering Memorial Hospital. Please pray for her like a million prayer hands. Please fill your mind and heart with hearts of all different colors and kissy faces galore for her as you text your friends shamrocks and beer mugs. And let’s be grateful today for the connection that technology offers us…. and for the emojis that connect us during times of deep fear, faith and friendship. (insert a thousand pink hearts with yellow ribbons tied around them here.)
Reflection: What’s something you take for granted everyday, or have judgment towards but actually ends up helping you in some hidden way?