Monday, May 23, 2011

The Secret Passageway

When I was a kid growing up near Philadelphia, my brothers and sisters and I used to love to go to the city’s museums. One of these was an excellent science museum, the Franklin Institute. The exhibit we liked the most there when we were little was a model human heart that was big enough to walk through. We would enter the right atrium, pretending to be an oxygen-starved red corpuscle returning from the body’s hinterlands by way of the vena cava. We would travel through to the right ventricle, and squeeze through the pulmonary artery to the lungs. Picking up a load of oxygen from an alveoli, we’d return to the left atrium through the pulmonary vein, travel through the mitral valve to the left ventricle, and move into the arched aorta to exit the heart. Sometimes we would run through the heart as quickly as we could several times in a row until our father lost his last remnant of what masqueraded as patience and would yell at us to cease and desist.

One day when I was about eight, I entered the heart, my sister Ann and her friend Annabelle just behind me. I moved quickly through all its narrow and kind of spooky passages, determined that my sister would not pass me. When I made that final turn out of the aorta, they were standing at the heart’s exit. “How did you get here ahead of me?” I asked in total bewilderment. “We took the secret passageway,” my sister told me. I pleaded and begged to be shown where it was, but my sister insisted that I would have to find it myself. Do you know that every time I went into that heart for years, I searched for the secret passageway? I’d poke around in every little nook and cranny, examining them from every angle, fruitlessly searching for anything that might be the start of this wondrous shortcut through the heart. Of course, I never did find it, and realized years later how my older and smarter sister had duped me!
How I wish I could go up to Ann’s home now, and walk in to see her standing in her kitchen, no longer hooked up to oxygen, cooking something for her guests. Or maybe she would be sitting in her living room, sewing one of the beautiful fabric landscapes that she learned how to do in the last decade. I would give her a huge hug and ask in astonishment “How did you get here? How did you get past breast cancer?”
“Oh, I took the secret passageway,” she would reply. “It is one that cancer doesn’t know about and can’t find.”

But I know that cannot be, for just as in the big model heart, there are no secret passageways to get us past danger or trouble or illness. It is my fervent hope that someday soon – certainly by the time my nieces are my sister’s age or by the time my granddaughter is a grown woman, there will be effective and safe cures for the terrible disease of breast cancer that will in effect accommodate escape by way of a secret passageway.
Note: Exactly one week after I penned these words, on the train back home after visiting my sister for what would turn out to be the last time, she died from metastasized breast cancer.

1 comment:

Dorothea said...

A wonderful memory to have, thanks for sharing.