Have you ever been nervous to meet a 6-year-old? It must sound absurd, especially coming from someone who is 34. But on August 26th of this year, I got the first-date jitters thinking about meeting Lexi Townsin, who as of that evening, was the first person I had ever met with Blau Syndrome.
“Will she like me?” “Will she be confused that her parents are excited to meet a stranger in NYC?” “Will she understand why meeting her will change my life?”
I often joke that kids tend to gravitate towards me, because at a “towering” 4’10”, they usually think I’m one of them. I’m immediately accepted into their world because we can have conversations at eye-level. And while meeting Lexi was a breath of fresh air because of how radiant she was, she was onto me. She knew I wasn’t a kid – not because of some unnatural intuition, but because she wasn’t completely a kid, either.
When I was growing up, my cousins used to make fun of me, because at family gatherings, rather than playing tag or Barbies, they would find me sitting with “the adults”, propped up next to my aunts and uncles, having conversations about life as though I had already lived it. But when you’re born with an incredibly rare disease like Blau Syndrome, you, for better or for worse, have already lived it… and a lot of it.
It would be impossible to suggest otherwise. When you have to experience adult-like scenarios like swallowing pills, taking eye drops, getting poked and prodded, going to countless doctors’ appointments, and waking up in the middle of the night for a special pancake breakfast because you have to fast for a hospital procedure, it almost makes more sense when a sick child reaches greatness earlier than most.
And Lexi surely did. Anyone that knew her was so fortunate to have been blessed with that gift. I only had the opportunity to spend a few short hours being captivated by her personality in-person, but since she overflowed with wit and sass, I left our meeting feeling lighter. She made me laugh. She knew the sweet look she could flash her parents when she wanted a meal they knew she wouldn’t be able to finish, which was proven as I watched her father snack on a larger-than-life portion of fish and chips while I spoke with them about all of the great work they’ve done for the diagnosis I shared with their daughter.
Most importantly, she had a voice. And not just the voice that knows how to speak up when something isn’t right, or that charms passersby on the sidewalk, selling lemonade for the foundation her parents created out of devotion to their child – she was also vulnerable, and kind, and knew how to express herself when she was scared, or in pain, or tired. She had learned so many hardships about life at such a young age, that it’s a wonder she had any joy left in her at all.
But that’s what speaks to Lexi’s spirit. Even though so much of who she was can be attributed to how she was raised by her amazing parents, it was always so evident that they felt they were the lucky ones, having a daughter whose laugh scared the clouds away each day. I think it’s pretty common to see siblings fight, especially at the ages that Lexi and her older brother, Felix were. But witnessing their bond, again, showed that her affect transcended any social norms that could be assumed of a 6 year-old.
After meeting Lexi, I had envisioned my future relationship with her. I pictured international phone calls when she was struggling to adjust, or confused about dating, or if she simply needed an ear when she had any concerns about life that I would have hopefully figured out by the time of her asking. I wanted to give her the understanding that I so desperately could have used at her age, and frankly, could use now. But most of all, I was excited to watch her grow. I decided that if someone so young was already such a bright light, how lucky the world would be to have her in it.
And it was.
Even though it’s an understatement to say that Lexi’s time on this earth was cut short pre-maturely, it’s pretty unbelievable to think about how many people felt who she was, even just by watching her videos. Social media can be a sterile place, but somehow, Lexi managed to break that barrier as well, with her touching attempts to raise awareness surrounding her circumstance.
I’m not sure why I’ve been afforded the opportunity to be granted more physical years than Lexi, and as I sit here, living with the same medical condition plaguing my body, the anger, and disappointment, and true heartbreak are overwhelming. During a time where not much makes sense in my life, she did. In a quick encounter a mile away from my apartment on a routine weeknight after work, she helped me understand why people don’t generally see my physical deformities the way I once saw them, and for the first time in a long time, I didn’t feel so alone.
It’s hard to reconcile why something so terrible had to happen to someone so special. Maybe we won’t. And I’ll refrain from saying the cliché thing, about how we can “learn” from Lexi’s passing, because I’m not yet in a place to accept that this is our reality, or that there is anything we can possibly gain from her absence that is of greater value than being able to get more time.
What I can say, however, is that for reasons that I’ll probably never know, I am still here, and I am still fighting this unfortunate illness, and I will do everything in my power to continue to forge ahead with the grace, and warmth, and valor that Lexi applied to her courageous daily fight being a patient with Blau Syndrome. And now, as I’m writing this from the “comfort” of a familiar Rheumatology waiting room, I’m thinking of Lexi. And even though the hole in my heart is great, I can picture her toothy grin cheering us on from wherever she is, and reminding us that while it might be difficult right now, tomorrow is only a day away.