Months ago, I started thinking about what I would post on Martin Luther King Jr Day. I just knew something poignant and profound would come spilling out of my heart. It’s a remarkable day of reflection for our nation, and hopefully for the nations beyond our borders. But his day came and went, and as hard as I stretched, nothing worthy came to, or from, me. I think it’s because MLK Day has a new meaning for me… and that day a week ago was not about me. It was about him, and the dream he had for freedom, and his dream coming true. I know there are still terrible struggles with equality but I believe they are, perhaps, the result of a portion of humankind choosing to be unkind. I believe Martin Luther King Jr’s dream impacted a world that will always be plagued with a conflict of good and evil in the moral compass of conscience. Martin Luther King Jr should be memorialized for his dream to reset the direction of our moral compass; he dreamed big and the change in our world was big because of him.
A year ago this month, I got a call that dared me to dream about something I had been told was impossible. A research coordinator invited us to enroll Coleman into a clinical trial that would essentially eliminate his peanut allergy. I ran to my friend on my break and held back tears when I told her I had incredible news and I’d fill her in at lunch. But the news didn’t last until lunchtime. Minutes later, the research coordinator called me back. Coleman was ineligible to be considered for the trial because he was in treatment for another allergy. (It was not chronic or life threatening.) I told her he didn’t need the treatment… he needed this trial. I think my despair was actually visible to her, I think I begged her to see if there was a way, I think I asked her to please keep us in mind for future opportunities. I really cannot put into words how heavy my heart was when it sunk. I remember making a conscious decision to not tell Coleman or my husband because there was nothing to gain; two more hearts would sink. I did end up telling Doug about it. He’s my life partner and to suffer alone is just as selfish as not sharing joy with him. We promised… in sickness and health, good times and bad.
And that’s the beginning of how Martin Luther King Day became a day that I was allowed to dream about something big. I was still stinging a little from the phone calls, but it was a day off so I took advantage of the down time. I was scrolling through Facebook when I came across the entire script of MLK’s speech. I made Coleman stop what he was doing and listen to me. I choked up more than once while reading it to him.
Perspective is a litmus test for whining. I was ashamed that I’d never read that speech. I was ashamed that I got so down in the dumps over something that we had managed well. My fear was valid… my son could die from something as seemingly harmless as a peanut. But my son was never denied the help and support he needed to live safely with a food allergy diagnosis. We did not meet the criteria for something I had only dreamed about… SO WHAT??? I live in the greatest country in the world, and it is great because of people like Martin Luther King Jr. We weren’t being denied a human right! We weren’t being denied fair treatment! We just didn’t get what I WANTED! I already had everything I’d ever need, and when this new treatment becomes available, we will get it. We won’t be denied it based on our race or religion or any choice we made. Martin Luther King Jr didn’t dream about every person getting what they want, he dreamed of every person having the opportunity to be given what they deserve.
As I sat there stinging from my own selfish behavior, I got a call. It was the research coordinator. It was Martin Luther King Day… why was she calling me on a federal holiday? She said she couldn’t stop thinking about me (finally my dramatic over-the-top personality would work in my favor!). She had talked to the team and they agreed to give us an option to enroll in the trial. We would have to wait for three months and risk the trial reaching its maximum enrollment, but if we wanted to pursue it she would move forward.
The rest, as they say, is history. Last week, on MLK Day, Coleman mixed his dose and ate it just as any other day. But it wasn’t just another day for me. It was a day that I finally saw a glimpse of a dream coming true.
Sometimes a dream can only be reached after living through a nightmare.
For eight months, we did not stop to catch our breath Food challenges, updoses, gallons of blood draws, miserable skin prick tests, missing campouts and parties and school… I’ve watched my son push through all of this without a word, NOT ONE WORD, of whining or complaining. There have been tortuous meltdowns when schoolwork would get overwhelming, but I know my kid. The tears were from the frustrating of failing, not from his decision to be in the trial. I sunk into some dark places more than once. But last Monday I reflected on “my” MLK Day, and I realized the nightmare is ending. We have eight months left. Eight. In eight more months, we will have changed our own history and hopefully made history with groundbreaking treatment.
Coleman recently wrote in a school assignment that his heroes are the doctors in his clinical trial, because he will no longer have to be afraid of peanuts. You see, heroes come in all shapes and sizes, and colors. They are big dreamers, like Dr Martin Luther King Jr, who dared to look evil in the face and believed that love would triumph. They are small town kids who value the quality of life Martin Luther King Jr dreamed of. They see that a little suffering can benefit others and they just do it, no regrets or complaints. All heroes have a common thread… they take away the fear so that we can dream.
Dream big. If you’re in a nightmare, keep dreaming and dream big. If you’re able to help someone and take away their fear, then do it and invite them to dream big. If you’ve been told it’s hopeless, if you’ve lost hope, rise above and dream big. You are hero material my friend! You don’t have to be big. Just dream big.