The bell in question is the one installed in the oncology ward of the hospital and rung by patients who have completed chemotherapy. Sammy has been under the care of a paediatric oncologist from the age of four, undergoing round after round of treatments over the last three years. He's lost and regrown his hair, struggled to regain weight and strength, even as the chemo changed the way once-favourite foods tasted, spent more days out of Kindergarten than in, undergone surgery to install--and later remove--an IV port in his chest, endured needle poke after poke, and been hospitalised for normal childhood infections that his chemo-treated body had little defence against.
Ringing the bell is a declaration of freedom from the endless rounds of treatment that have been such a large part of Sammy's life--and the life of his family--so it is fitting, I think, that he rang his bell on the Fourth of July.
Family members tell me that when Sammy was told to ring the bell, he was tentative at first. He had to be encouraged to swing the clapper hard enough to make the bell ring out--harder, louder, Sammy! Celebrate!
I don't know if Sammy remembers life before chemo. I wonder if life without it will seem strange or will just be...normal, but lighter, easier. He isn't going straight to his new normal. First he heads off with his family on a Make-A-Wish trip to Disney World to celebrate and be feted through the park with a supercharged "Genie Pass."
But after the celebrating and excitement end, the reward for spending almost half his life fighting cancer is...the ordinary.
To be ordinary.
To run around all summer like other kids. To complete a school year without lengthy absences. To be Sammy-with-the-big-smile or Sammy-who-likes-trucks rather than Sammy-the-one-who-has-cancer.
Ordinary can sound like a pejorative. "He's just an ordinary guy." But it isn't pejorative or "less than" at all.
Ordinary is a gift.
After the fast and the feast, Ordinary time is the pages of the calendar that lie empty so that we can fill them with our choices. Ordinary is the ground staying under our feet while we decide which path to take next.
Ordinary is where we discover our need for the discipline we fostered by fasting. It is when we fulfill the promises of the feast by extending generousity to others.
Penance and praise both mark us. But it is only in ordinary time that we find out what shape that mark has taken, how deep an impression it made.
Sammy has rung his bell and finished his "fast." The well-deserved feast is upon him. His life will be marked by these extraordinary experiences. But, for him, being "ordinary" may be the most extraordinary experience of all.
Photo credit: Sammy ringing the bell by Adam Parker