Yesterday I hopped on a train to Manchester and spent the afternoon at the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital. I had been invited to run a cartoon workshop by the wonderful childrens charity Rays of Sunshine, who were aware that I occasionally do this kind of thing. I was briefed beforehand about the poorly residents I would be doodling with, from young children to teenagers, with all kinds of illnesses. I was told that this was also the hospital where the young Manchester bomb victims were being treated. I didn’t meet many of these. Those who are well enough have gone home, and those still at the hospital are sadly still critical or not in a great way.
Our main focus was the oncology ward. Young children with cancer. Whilst I have run cartoon workshops like this at Great Ormond Street, these take place downstairs in the hospital school/classroom, so I hadn’t actually been invited up to a children’s cancer ward before. If I’m honest, I wasn’t really sure what to expect, and was perhaps a little nervous. The ward is fairly large, with tables in the middle where I was to conduct my workshop. I’m no doctor but I could see from the kids in their beds, many without hair, receiving their treatments through drips, that they were not well. Parents sat by their bedside looking tired while nurses worked hard around them, being amazing. And then there was me. Standing alone, armed with a bag of felt pens and some large pads of paper that the charity had brought in. I would be lying if I said I was completely confident about how it was all going to go. I’ve never been trained to teach, and I’m not particularly great with kids, … my own little princesses will vouch for the fact that occasionally my parenting skills may be considered unprofessional...(as per every parent I know!)
So, one by one, I met some of these brave children whose mums and dads wheeled them carefully over to my table. The kids and I chatted, drew some silly doodles, and had a bit of a laugh while I spoke with their parents over their heads. The kids drew, and their parents seemed relieved to talk. I quickly realised that this was going to be okay, possibly even fun.
And then I met Erin. Erin is five. Erin came bounding up to me and informed me with the confidence of a high court barrister that we were going to follow her strict instructions, and that it was going to be fantastic. Erin explained that her uncle is a children’s book author, and she often draws fantastic things. Erin spoke with infectious optimism and happiness, and set us tasks, including drawing a ‘superhero cloud holding a knife and fork’, and a ‘dragon with a very large hamburger’ (actually the hamburger was my idea but I’ll let her take the glory). Erin has been treated for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia since the age of two, and is the happiest, most confident, most enthusiastic, most inspiring little girl I have ever met. Erin beamed with absolute confidence, she assured me that our drawings would be a fun event. And she was right. We had enormous fun drawing silly little pictures. Erin is unaffected by the silly unimportant minor materialistic nonsense that consumes us. In fact most children are like Erin. She made me think so much about myself. We spend our lives worrying about such unimportant things,…the wing mirror got scratched, the programme didn’t series-link, they didn’t have the phone in the colour we want, the steak was overcooked, the steak was undercooked, the chips were too soggy, too salty, not soggy or salty enough,…and yes, the Argos delivery didn’t arrive between the hours we were so faithfully promised!!! How could these people do this to us???
We are living in unstable times, the news is filled with sadness, and the world we live in can often feel like a scary place. But this is our world and we have to live here. We get very short lives and we tend to fill them with so much that is unimportant.
Yesterday I was invited there to teach something to children like Erin. But it was me who was taught. I learned so much from this amazing little girl.
And yes, I am still waiting for my Argos delivery, but I no longer care!