I first met Nicole a week after we started visiting the hospital where she lived. She’d been living in that hospital for three years, if you could call it »living.« She’d been confined to her hospital bed in intensive care ever since she lost both parents in an automobile accident, an accident that had left Nicole completely paralysed.
She had a permanent breathing tube inserted into her trachea – a plastic tube snaking up to the life support unit beside her bed. The only things Nicole could move were her eyes. She had beautiful blue eyes, which were being held prisoner in an inert, lifeless body that was wasting away through atrophy. She was six years old. I would know her for the last two years of her short, tragic life.
However, Nicole didn’t wallow in pity. She didn’t see her life as tragic, although I certainly felt that she had a right to do so. She was so brave and accepting. When I was with her or, rather, when my clown figure was with her, I would forget her circumstances and see only the vivacious, charming child that she was. It was there in her eyes when she smiled and when she laughed. Her eyes spoke. »No« was a slight squint. »Yes« was a blink with both eyes. Her laughter was silent, but as loud, miraculous and contagious as any child’s laughter. I saw her running and playing, laughing with friends, her curly blond locks washed in the sunlight – things that never happened.
After a visit with Nicole, I always needed time alone to put my thoughts in order. I would be introspective. I reflected, marvelled and wondered at the miracle of life. I raged at the fickleness of fate. I would cry and then laugh with an epiphanous realisation of how fragile life was and how lucky I was. Nicole was special. She woke me up. She made me think. She raised my consciousness. These were her gifts. I made her smile. That was our deal. Unspoken. Win/win.