Saturday, July 22, 2006

A Beautiful Life Cut Short

Back in January of this year, one of my daughter’s middle school friends died of brain cancer. Her name was Ashley. She was 16.

Sadly, we were not aware of Ashley and her family’s nightmare until it was too late. My daughter had lost touch with Ashley a couple of years ago because we had moved and my daughter ended up at a different high school than all of her middle school friends. But Ashley and my daughter were definitely together a lot in their middle school years because of their similar interests and mutual love of sports. I cannot tell you how many softball fields we left with no voice because these girls could sure play the game and put us on the edge of our seats.

I have gone back and forth trying to decide whether to write about Ashley. The pain is still so strong and so raw. Just thinking about what her family has gone through shakes me to my very core. I just cannot imagine anything more painful than losing a child. It is every parent’s worst nightmare.

Each time I pass Ashley’s old high school or the softball fields, on which my daughter and she played so many games, I feel this golf ball sized lump in my throat and my eyes fill with tears. Ashley was such a bright light and she made an impression on everyone who knew her. She was gorgeous, smart, funny, extremely gifted athletically, and she just had the kind of personality to which everyone was drawn. I cannot help but think the world lost something really big the day she died. There are no words for that kind of loss.

There were 3 or 4 huge articles in our paper about her and an editorial cartoon printed in her honor. They had to hold the memorial service in a mega church and there still was not enough room for all of the mourners who came to say good bye. So many people spoke, telling their personal stories of how Ashley had touched their life. Friends, parents, teachers, coaches, and the list went on and on. Everyone had a story to tell, the picture weaved by the stories bespoke a life that had so much potential and so much promise. The collective sorrow in that building was heavy and suffocating.

So why am I writing about Ashley now? I think about her almost every day. I wonder if things could have turned out differently. I know that Ashley’s parents did everything they could to save their precious daughter’s life, but even with the marvels of modern medicine it was not enough. But I just cannot help wondering, was Ashley’s life just slated to end early and nothing could have changed that, or, could things possibly have been different if George W. Bush had made different decisions about stem cell research when he first became president?

His decision to use his very first veto on one of the few overwhelmingly bipartisan bills to come out of this very divided and partisan House and Senate just does not sit right with me. Maybe if it had been a different president, I would be saying something like, well that took courage for him to follow his deeply held convictions. But it wasn’t a different President, it was George W. Bush, a man that I don’t think has deeply held convictions, but rather political ulterior motives. And if those political ulterior motives profoundly and negatively affect lives, then so be it. It is all a political game with this President and the impact on families is not really his main concern.

Oh dear God, forgive me, but I cannot shake the what ifs when I think of Ashley. Why did such a beautiful young girl have to die? Could there have been a break-through in stem cell research in time to save Ashley? What if we had a President who did not make decisions based on saving poll numbers and rallying “the base”? What if we had a President who did not see things in black and white, but in the more realistic shades of gray that life’s moral dilemmas seem to present themselves in? What if we had a President who weighed and measured and agonized and then made decisions for the greater good of the people instead of for the approval of the James Dobsons, Jerry Falwells, and Pat Robertsons of this country?

I guess I should stop torturing myself with these questions; we will never have the answers to them. And tragically, this world will never know what might have been had Ashley beat the cancer and lived to show us.


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