There are two types of people in this world – one who can wear hats, and the other who can’t. Unfortunately, my Mum fits into the latter. For years, we have tried to find a hat that likes her –from baseball caps at Jays games, to visors on beach vacations, to Santa hats at Christmas parties, to beanies, to berets, to bowlers. If it’s been invented, we’ve tried it – and trust me, we’ve tried them all. On Monday, while sitting in the chemotherapy daycare unit of Princess Margaret Hospital, a hat found its way to Mum. Not just any hat – the hat. A bright pink and white, hand-made toque that was a perfect fit atop her head. Like Cinderella’s glass slipper. Mum had found a hat that agreed with her, and the hat had found a new home.
But this particular hat was more than just a hat; it was an act of kindness. It was made by a past cancer survivor who wanted to ‘pay forward’ the generosity given to her during her experience with cancer. It is unfortunate that too often we pay our pockets, without paying it forward. In today’s society, kindness has taken a backseat to unsubstantiated greed; generosity has been demoted to something we can do, rather than something we should do; and the giving of time to a worthy cause is a calculated act that must be booked in our calendars weeks in advance. Never have I been more attuned to our values as a society and how they seem to stray year after year from our core human instincts. And then a hat comes our way – and flowers, phone calls, emails and chocolates – from both strangers and friends alike, demonstrating the power of a simple act of kindness in driving my Mum towards a place of positivity and promise. A place where she feels she has an army of support behind her to get her through this journey. A place where she feels she has something worth fighting for – and more and more, that reason seems to be to give back and ‘pay forward’ all the support that she has received during this time.
The hat has been a reminder of the fragility of life – the idea that we can be at the peak of our careers one day, and the next, be bed-ridden in the Intensive Care Unit. It is a reminder that life is too short, moments are too precious to be living a life we do not particularly want to live. Engaging in habits we don’t want to be involved in. Doing things we are not absolutely passionate about. But most of all, the hat has been a symbol of hope – a silent gift from a complete stranger telling us that everything will be okay. If the hat-maker could survive cancer, my Mum can too. And when going through an experience like this, you hang onto every ounce of hope you can get. Every stable hemoglobin level, every normal temperature, every bit of energy is something to be hopeful about.
The hat will become an essential accessory item when my Mum begins to lose her hair in the coming weeks. But the little fellow has played an even greater role already – to remind us to live each day in gratitude, to be kind to others, to embrace the fragility of life and to remain hopeful. A magical hat, indeed.