"I don't want to be a boy anymore. I don't want to be me."
Words from Wee Oscar Knox.
Even typing them brings tears to the eyes. Thinking about them chills the heart.
The news that that the Glengormley boy – battling high-risk neuroblastoma, a rare and aggressive childhood cancer, since November 2011 – has been moved to the children's hospice should give us all a pause to reflect.
Oscar's bravery shames us as we go about our petty lives, moaning about that late bus, or that missed promotion. Easter Sunday brought a tweet carrying with it a photo of this wonderful boy and his sister, Izzie, surrounded by Easter eggs. It could be any brother and sister, but then you notice the nasal tube on Oscar's face. This is the ordinary rite of every family, rendered unbearably poignant.
We only think we know about life; but we know much less about it than this five-year-old boy. We can barely comprehend the sufferings of Wee Oscar's parents, Leona and Stephen, who have fought every inch of the way in trying to get help for their child, raising both awareness of neuroblastoma and money to fund treatment. As Leona said in her latest post on her blog, the couple have been "pushed to the limit of what any parent could tolerate in terms of watching their child suffer".
From what place do they get the courage to endure as their child screams in agony while morphine, sedatives and anti-anxiety drugs are administered round the clock? But, of course, we know from where Stephen and Leona find courage: from love and, in the final analysis, from Wee Oscar himself.
We hear the word 'love' used in a myriad of forms hundreds of times a day. From banal pronouncements of loving this or that TV programme to cheesy pop songs to some would-be Lothario declaring his endless love for you (babe). But how often to we think of it as this – the most indomitable, formidable force in the world?
And who wouldn't draw strength from Oscar? As Leona reveals, a consultant told her a few weeks ago: "Your son doesn't do giving up." In that sense, he is very much their boy. They may marvel at his courage, but he has drawn it down from them. They don't do giving up, either.
Inspired by them, neither do we. The story of Oscar Knox has brought us all closer together and shown the very best side of us, as a people united, Catholic and Protestant.
We responded to the campaign launched by Stephen and Leona to raise funds to send Oscar to the States for treatment. When Leona won the Belfast Telegraph's Mum of the Year award two years ago, hundreds of people rose to their feet as she made her way to the stage. It was everyone's way of showing we were standing shoulder to shoulder with her family all the way. And the people have kept their promise. They turned up at the City Hall earlier this year to donate blood in Oscar's name. Sports stars like Belfast boxers Paddy Barnes, Michael Conlan and Carl Frampton have gone into the ring for the little boy and his family.
The first ministers welcomed Oscar in another natty outfit to Stormont and continue to tweet support. We were all Team Oscar and for a while, too, it seemed we were winning.
We all know there are dark aspects to our character – we saw that on the Springfield Road in Belfast on Good Friday. But the exact opposite of that, its polar extreme, is the cause of Oscar Knox and our allegiance to him, across the divide, across the classes, and, thanks to the much-abused sport of football, across the Old Firm divide in real and moving tribute and support.
There is empathy which responds to courage, a brave spirit and a simple nature which both shames us and comes from us. Oscar has shown us that we can be so much more than our petty nature.
When we think of Oscar – and many are thinking of him and his family at this very minute – we should think of that sunny smile, that cheeky face, that thumb's up from the hospital bed, that brave and simple disposition which has refused to be broken. That grin rebukes us when we think life cheap, or to be met with cynicism.
It's not just our sympathy and our support and our time and our money he deserves. Oscar Knox's cause has made us individually better people and, importantly, a better people as a whole.
For that, more than anything, he deserves our gratitude.
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