I’m from a small beach town in New England called Marshfield. It’s a workin’ man’s town surrounded by wealthier, fancier towns, and we like it that way. We hear that being the scrappy underdog builds character, and our identity is in our grit and our work ethic.
And fuck those rich kids. 😉
I’m not sure if this is the case in every small town, but everyone I grew up with I consider, in some form or another, like family. I’ve known them for so long, I love them so much, we’ve laughed so hard together, cried even harder, and ran from the cops so much that it’s automatic family status whether we like it or not.
One of my first male friends I can remember having is Chris Sheehan. We met in the third grade and our friendship has endured. Chris is smart, hilarious, and loyal, and I love this kid like a brother. By some sort of small town mathematics, since I consider Chris a brother I consider his siblings like my family. I am not alone in my personal theory of relativity, and thousands of people feel connected to the Sheehan/Shaw family through a sibling, a parent, a cousin, or an uncle. The entire town calls Chris’ dad Chief. Which only struck me as odd when my boyfriend asked why I kept calling him that. Aggravated I answered, ‘because that’s his name.’
So, when Chris’ brother, Dan, and his wife, Natalie, also a Marshfield native, were suffering, Marshfield stepped up in a mighty way.
Natalie and Dan’s four year old son, Danny, has brain cancer. It presented itself through bad headaches and nausea, and a trip to the doctor revealed every parent’s living nightmare. When I finally found out through Facebook, I reached out to Natalie and offered the only trick I have: photographs of their family. She accepted my offer, and two days later I was ringing their doorbell on a Sunday morning in January.
Little Danny was there at the front door to greet me with a smiley-face scar on his skull in his red hair, and long blonde eyelashes framing his beautiful blue eyes. He’s as sweet and gentle as you can imagine a 4-year-old boy to be. He’s helpful and playful and kind, and he’s jaw-droppingly adorable and perfect in every way possible. I asked if he had his own bedroom, and the next thing I knew he asked me to follow him upstairs. The ol’ Sheehan trick, I joked with him. He smiled. He sat on his larger than life stuffed moose name Mortimer, and told me his ‘fwiend gave it to me to make me feew beddah.’ I wish I lived in a village full of only Dannys.
Soon after, cars started lining their street, and it was some sort of Sheehan/Shaw reunion in the backyard. Twenty or so relatives of Danny’s showed up to stand beside him in photographs. It was fucking beautiful, and their family showed their hearts that day. What a loving crew.
From Natalie and Dan’s larger (not actually) family, the overwhelming love and support played out over social media. Over $50K was raised in four days with a Go Fund Me page called The Danny Fund
. And tens of thousands of people visualized and hoped and prayed to a god they probably haven’t talked to in while to save Danny. Complete strangers chanted in Danny’s name in my yoga classes, and photo printers donated prints and canvas to the family. A yoga student of mine named Mike, a total stranger to the Sheehan family, sat and breathed in Danny’s suffering and exhaled peace and health. And from the looks of Facebook, believe me when I say our entire town is on it’s knees for Danny, Natalie, and Dan.
Danny is tough. He’s sweet and gentle, but he’s tough. Yesterday (February 7th, 2017) Little Danny had an operation at Children’s Hospital here in Boston to i
nsert a chemo port and get a spinal tap to try to find out more about his tumor. Very soon he will start an intensive chemo and radiation treatment. And in ten years Marshfield High School will have to brace itself for another hell raisin’, heart breakin’ Sheehan boy named Danny. And that’s all there is to it.
Danny has a road ahead of him that he does not deserve. He is too young to hold this burden, and everyone who loves him, or has ever loved anyone in their life, is surrounding him ready to do whatever they can. Danny is bringing out the very best in people, the very essence of our being, and reminding us what it is to be human: raw and scared, hopeful and defiant, loyal and generous. To be pure love. I am confident that Danny will receive the miracle we are all praying for, and he will continue to remind us that there is nothing here on earth worth doing except loving each other.
Danny, Natalie, and Dan, breathe deeply, have faith, know God, and love madly. You have thousands and thousands of people praying for you. Feel that every second of the day.