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It’s all about attitude

Posted: September 22, 2011 2:27 p.m.
Updated: September 23, 2011 5:00 a.m.

I, like any normal person, have my list of complaints, my daily doses of “woe is me” fits. I complain when the light turns red, and I am in a hurry.  I, as a student, complain when a certain grade isn’t reached or the teacher gives me and my peers “too much homework.” Honestly, minuscule complaints in comparison to real problems that deserve grievances.
Like being 5 and having to wonder if you’re going to make it to your next birthday.

Childhood is supposed to be a time full of glee and innocence. Children are blessed with the capability to see the world in a different perspective than most “mature” adults. They see people with open eyes and love fully with compassionate, sincere hearts. This naïve understanding of the world shouldn’t be snatched so cruelly away from them in the form of an aggressive, unforgiving disease like cancer.

Yet, I’ve been allowed the privilege to witness that the positive attitude you find in healthy children living day-to-day lives, is continued in children who live in a battlefield every moment of their lives. This past spring break of 2011, I was blessed to spend my spring break on a mission trip to Give Kids the World in Kissimmee, Fla. with my youth group. There, children with terminal illnesses, including cancer, are given the chance to just be kids again. They don’t have to worry about the normal life that’s been snatched away by their diseases, because here, they are all viewed as normal.

On this trip, I met one young girl in particular who demonstrated an optimistic viewpoint towards the disease she battled, and just a positive viewpoint towards life in general. Her name was Dakota and although her mom never told me what her disease was, the lack of hair said it all. However, Dakota was one of the most energetic children you’ve ever seen, and had a smile that just filled your heart with joy. She also made what her mom called her “happy giggle” whenever she got really pleased or excited. It was a noise that originated in her throat and sounded like that of a dolphin’s triumphed cry at simple beauty of life. It was a striking sound that rang high and proclaimed loudly how she viewed life.

When I first met Dakota, it was in the Beauty Parlor of the Castle at GKTW. I was working a shift with my youth director, Mary, and Dakota came in with her mom to get “glamorized.” After I had applied make-up to her face and fingernail polish to her nails, we turned to the mirror to look at her makeover. In the lighted mirror, her face shone. A smile that reached from ear to ear covered the whole of her perfect face, and that sound of delight erupted from her throat. I’ve never seen a better example of pure joy in my entire 18 years.

The real fingerprint she left on my heart though was our moment of parting. When I saw her for the last time in the Gingerbread House (food court), I waved politely, smiling, as I called out my goodbye. She paused then skipped across the course of the room, arms wide open, and wrapped herself around my neck. That moment struck me by surprise, but touched my heart. I lifted her gently off the floor and hugged back just as tightly. Then she bounded out the doors, holding her mom’s hand, beaming with a zest for life that I’ve never witnessed more in any healthy person.

I want to say that I have the right to complain when the light changes red, or I am running behind on accord of my own actions? How about no.  The real person in this case that had the right to complain didn’t, only seemed thankful for the simple pleasure of a dab of lip-gloss or the warmth of a good hug. It’s all about attitude.

A more recent example I’ve experienced of this same positive attitude came from an individual I had to interview for a personal profile for my Yearbook class. This young lady experienced leukemia at the raw age of 4, later losing her own dear mother to the same monstrous disease at the age of 12. Did she utter one complaint or feel sorry for herself during the course of our entire interview, even when it would have been perfectly understandable if she had? No. All that came out of her mouth was about viewing each day as a gift and a motto to always smile. A wise, beyond her years life motto.
It’s all about attitude. How you choose to handle a situation or circumstance. The sad truth is, life can be unfair.

Sometimes we may be handed cards in life like trying times or experiences that can cause us to want to scream to the heavens. However, what I’ve learned from a few wise, younger individuals I’ve encountered in my life: a situation may be bad, but you can make it good if you find the little light of hope in the cave of despair and troubles.

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness month. I challenge each of you to donate to a cause, whether it’s St. Jude’s, Give Kids the World, or any charity that addresses the devastating disease of childhood cancer. While you’re writing the check or digging for the change, think about the face of a child who you may be helping. Think of Dakota, and that electric smile and attitude she had towards life, even when hers is challenging in a time where it’s suppose to be carefree.

(Rebecca Rowell is a contributing columnist for the C-I from Lugoff-Elgin High School and can be reached at


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