There is a boy at a Los Angeles area hospital, we’ll call him Robin, who is undergoing treatment for a critical and chronic health condition. Maybe his parents have to work, or maybe he has other siblings… whatever the reason he spends many days alone in the hospital, having treatments done that would terrify full-sized adults.
Kids like Robin inspired the founding The Art of Elysium, which entertains hospitalized children, keeping their minds off the pain and loneliness.
Last week I performed with them for my 100th project at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.
When I showed up at the hospital I was greeted by some of Elysium’s volunteer actors: Victoria Secret look alikes, and one guy we shall refer to as the smartest man in LA.
We had a few minutes to look over some simple holiday children’s plays, including a very sweet one allegedly written by Harry Connick Jr. We picked costume pieces out of a suitcase, constructed a curtain out of a sheet, and then show time.
Standing behind the sheet I took a moment to process the surrounding treatment ward: little beds, some of them cribs, little wheelchairs, a nurses’ station, tiny legs in casts on the other side of the “curtain.” There are few things more jarring than to see a toddler with several broken limbs or hooked up to multiple IVs.
I refocused on the play. We were instructed to race around the audience acting like we didn’t know where we started.
On cue we raced about, hiding in the audience. “Do I start here?” We asked each child. “What if I start here?” I said crouching into a ball next to the children.
I sat down next to a little girl, no bigger than a cabbage patch doll. She looked non-responsive, too tired or weak to lift her head. I doubted she could enjoy the show, but I put out my hand on her stroller as I asked my question. That’s when she firmly grabbed my hand.
She held on tight. I had asked, “Do I start here?” She looked at me, and it was this wonderful, perfect, clear moment that few people will ever get in their lives. Yes, it’s time to start.
My eyes watered as I went backstage, but before each entrance I collected myself. The children giggled and smiled throughout the performance.
After the show we stayed to talk with the families, some would be staying at the hospital through the holidays.
The little girl who had grabbed my hand sat still. I went over and thanked her for letting me perform for her. She didn’t reach out and grab my hand again. Perhaps too tired this time.
Why would I end TheGoodMuse with something sad? Well:
1) This is far from the end.
2) How lucky am I that I have gotten to run around Los Angeles, and the world helping people, entertaining kids like these, playing with animals, and cleaning up neighborhoods.
I’m lucky because I’m healthy enough and have enough resources to do this work. The greatest blessing is the ability to give back. I’ve gotten much more in return.
It’s been a breathtaking experience.
I think I may be, in the end, the luckiest girl in the world.