by Laura Kurk
The real heroes anyway aren’t the people doing things; the real heroes are the
people noticing things, paying attention.
The Fault in Our Stars, John Green
Have you read John Green’s most masterful book The Fault in Our Stars? I downloaded it the day it released and absorbed the first half in a matter of hours, like a starved person. Then the pain began in my heart. I realized an ache had been there all along, and Green knew about me. He knew how sickness and grief had dominated whole swaths of my life, and he yanked the scab off anyway.
I smile when I think of the scene where Augustus is comforting Hazel as she worries about what her absence will do to those who love her. He tells her this:
“It would be a privilege to have my heart broken by you.”
That’s what life is all about, really—the privilege of a broken heart that comes from feeling and loving deeply. Living and pain and love and loss, at some point, become one in some strange dimension we enter. It happens for all of us. No one is immune, not even celebrities. The part that makes it worthwhile is when, as noticers, we see beauty peeking through. And, guys, as soon as we become noticers, life is never the same. We’re compelled to action.
Mountain Climbing with My Mom
A few weeks ago a molehill became a mountain in my life and I was called to grab my rope and climb for a time. This was nothing new.
I’ve had the privilege of being by my mother’s side in the last couple of months as she came to terms with her second cancer diagnosis. She is and always has been a fierce warrior. So I’m not worried. I’d climb Everest with her if she needed me. She’s done that for me more times than I can count. Times like these, the broken heart times, tend to sharpen us and radically shape our priorities.
I wish I could list for you the thousands of celebrities who give time and money to health-related causes because they, also, had the privilege of a broken heart. In January of this year, Forbes Magazine compiled a list of the thirty most generous celebrities, who together gave more than $64 million in one year to charities that benefited health research, hospitals, museums, the homeless population, and families in need. Their money and status give them the means to help, but hear this, they also have the hearts to help. I dare you to Google “celebrities and charities.” It will restore your faith, I promise.
Here are a few of my favorites:
Colt McCoy, a quarterback for the Cleveland Browns, joined forces with a healthcare organization to build a pediatric hospital between Austin and Dallas. Why? He remembered what it was like for his family when his brother, Case, developed a rare skin disorder that required frequent hospitalization. The nearest Children’s Hospital was hours away and that meant his family had to stay in hotels during treatment. He wanted to change that for other families.
Ty Warner, billionaire founder of Ty, Inc. (think Beanie Babies) recently made a very real difference to one woman who was out of options. Jennifer Vasilakos was standing at a street corner in California trying to raise $20,000 to pay for a stem cell operation that was her last hope for survival when Ty Warner pulled up needing directions. She helped him. He took her flyer, handed her fifty dollars and wished her luck. But a few hours later, he returned. He’d read her flyer, done some research, and paid for her procedure in full. Why? Because she broke his heart and he couldn’t turn away.
Phylicia Rashad (Claire Huxtable from “The Cosby Show) is a major force in raising awareness about diabetes and heart disease. Why? Because her father, a diabetic, died of heart disease.
Christina Applegate started her own foundation (Right Action for Women) to get the word out about early cancer detection and to help women who don’t have the resources for screening. Why? Because she and her mother have both battled breast cancer.
Nick Jonas started D-Vision and it’s a big part of the way the Jonas brothers give back. Nick is especially interested in helping kids with diabetes talk about their disease and come to terms with how to stay healthy. Why? Because he was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes when he was twelve.
And, Reba McEntire has given selflessly throughout her entire career. I want to shine a light on one of her gifts that came to mean a lot to me this summer. In July, when my mom was being treated at a hospital in Denison, Texas, I needed a place to stay that would be close and safe and a haven during a storm. Get this: Reba built a place for families to stay when they’re taking care of a loved one in that hospital.
She chose to help in this way because her own family had dealt with serious medical issues and she saw the need to give loved ones a beautiful, peaceful place to be together and rest. So far, nearly 9,000 families have benefited from the Reba Ranch House, including my own.
The September Lola Award!
This month’s Lola Award goes to Robin Roberts, host of Good Morning America, an outspoken proponent of what she calls the three D’s—discipline, determination, and da Lord. Five years ago, Robin let us walk with her as she battled and beat breast cancer. Unfortunately, some of the chemotherapy drugs used to fight her cancer carry a risk of myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) and Robin developed it. She’s fighting again.
Robin is a woman of faith who provides a quiet example in a chaotic news world. She made ripples not too long ago when she was filmed during her prayer time before the show. Her prayer of protection, beautiful and touching, is one we should say today and in the coming days for Robin as she endures harsh chemotherapy in preparation for her bone marrow transplant—
“The light of God surrounds me. The love of God enfolds me. The power of God protects me. The presence of God watches over me. Wherever I am, God is.”
Robin wins the Lola because she’s a fighter, but also because she’s using her platform to educate the country about the critical need for bone marrow donors. (Her sister was her match and will be donating stem cells to Robin.) After Robin announced her fight, Be the Match Registry saw an astonishing 1,000 percent increase in the number of people registering to become bone marrow donors.
Be the Match wants you to know that the process is simple. Most times there’s no surgery involved. It’s painless and easy, and lives are saved. They really are. People are saved every day by donations. Sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, husbands and wives. They are saved.
You must be eighteen to be a donor, and joining the registry just requires a swab of the inside of your cheek so matches can be determined. Encourage everyone you know to look into becoming a bone marrow donor and go to Be the Match (marrow.org) for more information.
Remember when I said that life’s about the privilege of a broken heart. And that once our hearts are broken, we notice things. No one could say that any better than Robin Roberts. On the day she began her medical leave, she made this statement to her viewers:
There’s a point that really resonates with me when I think about this time of my life. Life provides losses and heartbreak for all of us, but the greatest tragedy is to have the experience and miss the meaning. I am determined not to miss that meaning, because through it I have discovered that I have been given many gifts, gifts that will carry me through this difficult time.
Her dear friend, Martina McBride, sang to Robin on her last day at Good Morning America. Martina’s song, “I’m Gonna Love You Through It,” is a beautiful tribute to the warriors fighting cancer and the caregivers supporting them. It makes me think of the verse that has pulled me through so many hard times . . .
I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love; I lifted the yoke from their neck and bent down to feed them. Hosea 11:4
I’ve seen it over and over in hallways of hospitals. People, sick and healthy, young and old, are helpful and caring and selfless because their hearts have been broken. They give even when they’re empty. Their eyes have been opened to what really matters in life and, instead of being defeated by illness, they are more alive than most of us.
Comfort, abundance and time make us apathetic and thin-souled. But discomfort, scarcity, and long odds make us big with soul.
Cords of human kindness. You’ve seen them. You’ve been them.