Walking into the Feldman home, in Agoura Hills, CA, the telltale signs of sickness could frighten any guest. A sign on the front door kindly asks visitors who are sick to refrain from coming in, a large bottle of hand sanitizer sits on the side table in the foyer, the smell of alcohol lingers under baked chicken and chocolate dessert. And yet, their home, thrust in a cacophony of crisis, produces energy of hope, optimism and unconditional love. Rather than tragedy, sickness is understood here as grounds for challenge and opportunity for spiritual growth.
Zoe Feldman, a bright eyed two year old child wearing a pink tutu came to the door to greet me. Her head bald from chemo therapy, her chest covered in Bandaids, her arms plastered with stickers and pretend tattoos, gifts she got from the children’s ward during her chemo treatment. We played in her room while she painted my nails, as I interviewed her parents about what they thought the meaning of life was.
Zoe’s diagnosis came as a surprise to Jeffrey and Ravit Feldman. Seven weeks ago, after ten days of their small child writhing in pain, the unthinkable was diagnosed, when a malignant mass the size of a grapefruit was found in Zoe’s belly. I’ve seen families go through this sort of torture before. I have witnessed first hand how illness can violate a person’s faith. Yet, Jeffrey smiled and told his story with uplifting conviction. As if to say G-d himself was sitting on his shoulders, holding his hand the whole time, and nothing could shake his confidence. The optimism and sheer blessing he felt relayed to him filled the room so deeply, even I stopped seeing Zoe’s cancer. All I saw was Zoe’s opportunity.
Jeffrey’s life before Zoe’s diagnosis was like every other American’s — working, trying to get by, trying to make a life for his family, not thinking about much else beyond being a good father, a good provider and a good husband. But, since the diagnosis, Jeffrey’s eyes have been widened to stories and events he had never thought possible. He truly is inspired by his daughter’s gregarious personality that has emerged.
“Before this, Zoe kept to herself, she was shy and withdrawn, now she is alive, touching people’s lives with her bright soul,” Ravit shared with me. Jeffrey is truly inspired by the friends that have come together for him from all across the city to support their family. He has been touched deeply by the unity that has formed as a result of his daughter’s struggle.
Nothing prepared me for the meeting I was about to experience, as Jeffrey introduced me to one of the reasons for his hope and optimism. “Big Zoe,” as he called her, was an 11-year old softball player that had never met the Feldman family before. “Big Zoe” was so inspired by “little Zoe’s” illness, she decided to take some action, a gesture that created a butterfly effect of possibility and hope. What has emerged from this illness is truly astounding and I don’t think I will ever see cancer the same way again.
Before I left that night, Jeffrey started talking about this as a tragedy, and insisted on correcting himself, saying, “This is not a tragedy, this is a challenge.”
I guess the difference between a tragedy and a challenge is that tragedy lacks hope, tragedy lacks optimism, tragedy lacks possibility. Challenge is re-framing oneself to see the potential within the struggle.
Below is a link to a short film that showcases one of the most incredible stories I have ever seen emerge from pain and suffering. It is stories like these that we hope to develop more of on our Life Means What site.
To be part of the search please go here.
Today the meaning of life was taught to me by two small girls who have used their power to find meaning in life by believing.