“I’d suggest getting your affairs in order,” the doctor told the older woman.
The doc said this with no emotion. He just looked at his shoes because apparently he couldn’t bear to meet her eyes.
“Are you telling me that I’m dying?” she said.
No answer. Just a nod. Then more medical jargon.
The news hit her like a runaway boxcar. She went home and almost had a nervous breakdown. She was about to hyperventilate. She needed to think. Needed to lower her heart rate.
Must breathe. Must sit. Must keep it together. Inhale. Exhale.
Music. That’s what she needed right now. Something—anything—to distract her from the fear. She turned on the old wooden GE radio sitting in the kitchen and closed her eyes.
The music blasted through the linoleum room. Dean Martin sang about silver bells, and Der Bingle sang about dreams involving glistening treetops and white Christmases. She cried upon her enamel breakfast table.
Death. She wasn’t ready to die. She had raised four kids alone after her husband left her years ago.
She was the single mom you’ve seen a million-and-five times in public. The mom who clips coupons from the Sunday paper, who works three jobs, who sews denim patches on the butts of Little League uniforms.
Now her children were grown and she was, what, on her way out? It was a cruel joke, she told God. Cruel and disgusting. And it was beneath him.
Her old radio crackled and hissed with static.
Then the music stopped. Then static. Then music. Then the reception was garbled with snowy interference and the receiver started picking up a station in Spanish.
She smacked the radio. Which only made her cry harder. So she smacked the radio again. And again.
The static was replaced by the voice of an obnoxious radio preacher blaring through the tweed speaker. And although she cannot recall the sermonizer’s exact words, they went something to the tune of:
“There’s someone out there right now who is afraid, who just received bad news from the doctor…”
She looked at the glowing lights on the dial of the ancient radio.
What did he just say?
“… This person is scared, and alone, and you don’t want anyone to know how frightened you are…”
This couldn’t be happening. This couldn’t be real. She wasn’t going to fall for this.
“… I want you to know that if you’re courageous enough to believe, if you have the guts to blindly believe, you will get through this. That’s a promise. Doctors cannot explain the mysteries of heaven, and neither can you. Miracles happen every day…”
This really, really, couldn’t be happening.
She felt her knees get weak. And she felt hot streaks of water rolling down her cheeks, cascading down her chin. She crumpled onto the cool floor and felt her lips utter three words.
“Help me believe.”
She doesn’t remember much after that except for hearing the preacher holler about believing in impossible things.
Faith, it’s called by some. Assurance, it’s called by professional hymn writers. The old-timers called it Providence. Someone very famous once called it moving mountains.
Either way, something happened inside her, and she actually believed. The woman believed with every gene, every cell, and each atom inside her. It just clicked. She knew she was going to get better.
It wasn’t so much that she had blind faith, and it wasn’t some magic bolt of lightning. It was simply that she knew everything would be okay. She didn’t know exactly how it would be okay, or when it would be okay, but she knew that she was safe. Safety. That’s all anyone wants, really. We want to feel secure.
“I wanna believe,” she whispered.
She said this not to the radio, not to the preacher, not even to the Almighty. She said it to that scared little kindergartener within herself. The child inside us all, the child who so badly needs a hug. The kid who had lost all faith.
The next morning she awoke after a restful sleep. Something in her had shifted. No, she wasn’t a hundred percent better. Yes, she still had the jabbing pain in her lungs. But something was definitely different in the mental department.
“I was like my old self again,” she said. “I still had breathing issues, but my mind felt better. I just knew my cancer wasn’t going to last. I just knew.”
Months later, she underwent follow-up tests. And one afternoon, her doctor explained that the results had come back negative. He could not understand it. He had never seen anything like it. He was, frankly, very confused.
“We couldn’t find a mass anywhere,” he said.
She cried happy, beautiful, sacred tears. She cried for weeks.
A couple months later, her oldest son was repairing an overhead lighting fixture in her kitchen. She was cooking a grilled cheese on the stove while he was on a ladder.
“How about some music?” she announced.
The woman went to the old GE radio and flipped the switch on the dial, but nothing happened. No glowing light. No sound. Nothing. She kept fiddling with it to no avail.
Finally her son descended the ladder and inspected the back of the radio with a laugh.
“Mama,” he said. “Don’t you remember? This old radio has had a busted circuit board for years. You just kept it for looks. This broken radio hasn’t worked since I was a little kid.”
Today she is ninety-four. And she says she still owns that radio.