By my former NBA colleague Greg Economou...
Why does my beautiful and amazing niece, Ariana, have to endure such a struggle – with pain, suffering, and lack of normal teenage kid stuff – while others go on with life without a care in the world? Why do my brother and sister-in-law have to take on such an enormous and extraordinarily difficult challenge, while many, if not most people simply take life and living for granted?
As the questions bounced through my mind, I didn’t have any answers. As much as I pondered and thought, I couldn’t find any immediate or concrete rationale. As the day passed, I asked these questions of few others – there and over the phone – and found no one who had any insight either. I snuck into the chapel at the RMDH and knelt down and talked to God and tried with all my might to hear His response – but perhaps needed more time or intelligence to fully grasp it. I prayed and wished for every family I saw that day – and especially for my niece and brother’s family – that I could have at least gotten one clue. Perhaps knowing would create some peace of mind.
But then, late in the day, it hit me. And although it hit me like a ton of bricks, it was in the form of the most beautiful music I had ever heard. Ariana had invited me to Music Room in the basement of the Ronald McDonald House – which is more like a world-class studio than a typical music room one might see at a school or community center. As I eased her wheelchair through the door and toward the big keyboard in the corner, I could feel her inner peace beginning to set in. As she positioned herself behind the piano keys and started to noodle, I knew this was “home” for Ariana.
You see, Ariana has been a music lover from as young as I can remember – takes after her Oma, my mom, who is a magnificently talented musician and artist. Piano lessons, voice lessons, dreams of Julliard and Broadway, filled Ariana’s time and imagination from the earliest days of her life. Despite being in New York City for the worst possible reason, Ariana has relished the idea of being so close to Broadway and the heart of the greatest musical theater in the world.
It started with a few simple notes. More notes rolled into and out of my ears and mind – and as I gazed at her I could see she was entering a deep and passionate musical bliss, forgetting completely – if only momentarily – about her cancer, chemo, radiation, transfusions, etc. As I focused on her playing the music, I saw a joy, a purpose, a sense of self, perhaps even the precise motivation that is getting her through her most difficult of journeys. As she played on, I fought the urge to break down and cry. I fought the urge to run over to the piano and grab her and hold her and try to “make it all better” like any good uncle would want to do. I fought the urge to scream back to God, “Why?"
But something stopped those urges. As my angst subsided and my wonderment increased, I began to realize she was teaching me something about myself and any one else who could fathom the circumstances. She was unknowingly showing me that her ability to withstand such pain and discomfort – to have to endure endless tests, needles, scans, drugs, side effects, etc. – yet still find her essence and courage is proof to me that a person’s soul and spirit are more powerful than anything else.
Moreover, if she could do that in the condition she was in, I should stand up and do more and be more of a human being in any and every way. If she could find a happiness and peace in the context of her suffering, it showed me that I needed to never forget the blessings I have and my family has – and try to pay that forward as much as I possibly can for as long as I am lucky enough to do so.
We’ve all tried to be there for Ariana in every way. Little does she know she is there for us in greater and more profound ways than anyone could have predicted or understood going into this dreaded journey. I don’t’ think I will ever know why she was chosen to be the example she is – perhaps because God knows she could withstand and overcome. I wish with every fiber of my being that she didn’t have to suffer to teach me anything – but that is something in God’s hands and not mine.
In the end, I hope I never take for granted what I have – health, happiness, opportunity, potential, accomplishment, joy, experiences, history, newness, etc. I also hope I never stop trying to find my happiness and inner peace – especially considering there isn’t much stopping me from doing so, relatively speaking. My admiration for Ariana and my determination to help her overcome this insidious enemy, will never waver – she has taught me and so many others that have come in contact with her marvelous self more about what is really important in life than I/we ever knew possible, especially about perseverance, resilience, hope, joy, and love.
As the music ended, I walked over to Ariana and hugged her and thanked her for playing me such a beautiful song. Little did she know she just changed my life forever. I hope and pray I get the chance to remind her of that every day for years to come.
To help, see this ... Ariana Economou