My phone rang. I didn’t recognize the number, so I answered. I expected to be greeted with an automated voice, delivering exciting information about my auto warranty. Instead, it was a young man. I’ll call him Fred, although that’s not his name. I’d forgotten I was expecting his call.
“Where do you want me to start?” said Fred.
“Start wherever you want.”
He was calling from the third-floor of the oncology unit. Thirteen years old. When he told me that he was dying, I lost the air in my lungs.
“Are you still there?” he said.
“Yeah,” I answered.
At first, I was tempted to ask if this was all some kind of elaborate prank. Cynical, I know. But it’s not every day you meet a kid like Fred.
He went on. “I just wanted to tell you what I’ve learned on my personal journey. I thought maybe you could write about it.”
Big words from a young man. I couldn’t even answer.
“Are you still there, Mister Sean?”
“I’m here.” I fumbled for a pencil. “Go ahead, Fred. I’m listening.”
I could hear his mother in the background urging him to speak. And I got the sense that I was involved in a deeply personal family moment. I felt like an intruder.
“I’ve learned that people are great,” he began. “People are nice to you when you need them. But not the people you think will be nice. People I didn’t even think were my friends are now friends and they would probably do anything for me.
“Like, my friend Rachel has come to the hospital pretty much every day this year. Sometimes she sleeps here and we play games and stuff like that. We weren’t even friends before I got sick, she was just in my class. There are, literally, a bunch of people like that in my life right now.”
I wrote it all down, but said…