Wish Day #2: Quest for the Hard Ones

She is a child who confounds any notion I have of strength. Just when I think I’ve seen her grandest statement of perseverance, she proves me wrong – and nothing makes me happier.

She attacked her first day in Orlando with Herculean strength. Nothing could slow her down. It was a day chalk full of events. Her answer to each: next! It was a chore to keep up with her.

We began our day with a family breakfast at Tratoria del Porto. Jordan ate her fill of pancakes, eggs and bacon (she has the stomach of a midwesterner). Everyone drank tea (except me). We toasted the beginning of Jordan’s wish and pledged to have fun.

Our first stop: Give Kids the World, a non-profit resort in Central Florida that creates magical memories for children with life- threatening illnesses – and our hosts. After a brief orientation in which we received many gifts, we toured the campus. Jordan autographed a gold star that will soon be affixed to the inner ceiling of the magic castle at the resort, along with hundreds of other children who have realized their wishes. The kids played in the game room until Jordan realized there was a carousel. Within a short time she had negotiated with the cast members to fire it up. Soon she and several other guests were whirling around in circles. After a train ride along the grounds, we were off to our first theme park stop – Universal’s _Islands of Adventure_ (IOA).

I have always though of IOA as Orlando’s best kept secret. It’s one of the most beautiful parks, packed full of things to do. The only trouble is that Jordan is somewhat restricted in her activity. Because of her illness, rollercoasters are a hazard. Unfortunately, she *loves* rollercoasters – and Universal has some of the best. Nevertheless, we encouraged her to sample the parks other many attractions, and she was not dissatisfied.

The people at the park treated her like royalty. As part of her wish, Universal extended her a gold pass, a lanyard that prompted cast members to escort her to the front of the line. People stopped to talk to her and allow her carte blanche. She accepted graciously, charismatically … with a charisma that visibly moved others to ponder why this child was being granted a wish in the first place. This was not a child facing a life-threatening illness. This was a child in search of adventure. This was a girl daring attractions and novelties to make her giggle.

She sought out all the rides her doctors would allow. We managed to take in one rollercoaster, a child’s ride that wasn’t too risky. She held her hands above her head and cheered throughout.

We rode Spiderman. She thought it was loud, but loved the experience.

We rode the carousel – twice.

And then we came to the rock wall.

Jordan loves rock walls. Whenever we go to REI or a mall that has one, she finagles her way into a try. She never makes it. Usually, she gets about five feet off the ground and can’t quite figure out how to get any higher. She gets frustrated and throws in the towel.

When she saw the rock wall today, she asked to try again. We rolled our eyes. We tried to divert her attention. She would not be subdued.

I asked her, “Jordan, why do you want to do the rock wall when you only get a few feet and stop?”

Before she could answer, I realized the significance of my stupid question. We actually answered simultaneously.

“Because I can do it this time.”

I realized that the rock wall was a perfect metaphor for Jordan’s illness and her journey. It doesn’t matter what setbacks she’s encountered before. She can always try to scale the wall again. And this time, she might actually get to the top to ring the bell.

We signed the kids up. Jordan was first. While they waited in line, Luc bragged about whether he wanted to do an “easy one” or a “medium one”. Jordan exclaimed: “I want to do the hard one.” I looked at Jeanette and shook my head.

“Jeesh, Jordan. Can’t you do something easy for once in your life?!”

Jeanette laughed and we convinced Jordan to try an “easy one” before attempting the “hard one”.

Jordan started her climb with her usual level of determination. And she climbed pretty high – halfway up. Then I noticed the look on her face. She was afraid. She started looking down. She struggled to find her footing. Her hands trembled. And soon, she jumped back and repelled downward.

We cheered her, congratulated her, clapped and hooted. She was not amused.

Luc went next. He scaled his way to the top like some kind of monkey, rang the bell and floated back to the earth’s surface. He was allowed two tries, so he went again. This time he chose a more difficult face, and again he scaled the wall and rang the bell. Jordan motioned that she was ready to try again.

It only took a couple of minutes, but it felt like the world slowed down. People had gathered around us, but none of them knew about Jordan. They were watching their own children. But every so often, they’d look over their shoulders at the girl in the pink sweatshirt. She was determined. The force of her will pushed the air aside and cold-cocked innocent bystanders. Her face was pale and cross; absent of joy.

Halfway up the wall I couldn’t breathe. I watched as Jordan commanded her knees to rise, dug her heels into the edges and hoisted her body up. Every step mattered. It wasn’t graceful. It was dirty and committed, brash and intimidating. She fought the rock face like it was a villain. Even in that brief moment, I reflected on what she was doing. A year ago she couldn’t walk, now she was scaling a wall – and damnit, the wall was going to go the same way as the wheelchair.

The final moments I’ll never forget. She was getting tired. There was only a couple of yards left in the elevation. She used her knees. She foisted her body upward in spite of gravity. The bell was within reach and it taunted her. We cheered from below, careful to give her room to fail. But failure is not part of Jordan’s way. She pushed and climbed … and she rang that bell. She rang it long enough to hear it sound in her ears and then she repelled herself down.

People we didn’t know clapped and cheered her. Jeanette and I looked at one another. Neither of us had dry eyes. Luc was the first to notice.

“Hey, look, mom and dad are crying.”

Jordan replied, “they’re crying because they’re happy!”

I nodded, lifted her up and held her tight. Jeanette hugged us both. The cast member shook our hands and congratulated Jordan. Oddly, she was ready to move on to the next ride. She allowed us to relish the moment, but it was clear that all she was thinking was: next!

Watching her scale that rock was the most humbling experience of my life. If ever I doubt her ability to fight cancer, all I need to do is look at the photo of her reaching for that bell. She doesn’t know how to do anything but fight and push on. It’s beautiful.

We finished the evening with a long dinner at Emeril’s. Jordan ate her fill of pizza and Shirley Temples.

And this was only our first day…