I’m spending the last fleeting minutes of Christmas Eve here on the couch with my parents, my grandmother and T; the Polar Express movie has just ended. As much as I loved the book growing up (the copy Mom read to T tonight has my name and home phone number scrawled on the inside front cover), I haven’t read it in years. Sitting here tonight, though, the last few words of Chris Van Allsburg’s story touched me in a way they hadn’t before.
“At one time most of my friends could hear the bell, but as years passed, it fell silent for all of them. Even Sarah found one Christmas that she could no longer hear its sweet sound. Though I’ve grown old, the bell still rings for me as it does for all who truly believe.”
The Polar Express is about much more than a man in a fuzzy red suit who makes a living jumping down chimneys one night a year. It’s about believing in the unbelievable. It’s about the journey all of us take at least once – as children or adults; in the context of Santa Claus, or religion, or a relationship with someone we love.
I have been on that journey for three and a half years in the context of my sister’s illness. After T’s diagnosis, it was a long time before I stopped being angry at God. I am no longer angry; I just plead with Him everyday. After that fateful day, it was a long time before I could bring myself to believe that T has a shot. In the end, my decision to believe was more a survival tactic than anything. I couldn’t get out of bed in the morning if I thought our story’s ending was preordained.
Unlike the boy in The Polar Express, I don’t know where our train is going – and I take comfort in that. The unknown is better than a guaranteed bad ending. I know that Batten disease is – thus far – universally fatal. I know that if T were to survive it, I would call it a miracle. But that’s the beauty of faith. No one has ever beaten Batten disease. But the strong half of me believes in that which I have never seen. And though I do not know our train’s final destination, I know that it is going forward, not backward. I know that it is moving much faster than it was a few short years ago. I know that if I quit, she will lose. And I know that for as long as I believe, the bell will ring for me.