Sophie’s star: A Tale of Two Successful Operations

My best friends have two kids. A bright and endlessly energized little boy, named after yours truly — and therefore destined to have the unfortunate and slightly demeaning moniker of Little Roger for probably as long as I am still around; and a beautiful little girl named Sophie, for whom this story is named. Sophie is a precocious and unexpectedly articulate, perhaps even loquacious eleven-year old: It has become virtually impossible to talk over Sophie’s head or to attempt to disguise a supposedly adult conversation behind erudite words. However, this advanced state of intellectual development is neither intimidating nor annoying, because fortunately Sophie is also generous, sweet, kind and funny, and — most importantly, not above laughing at herself. Sophie also has Cerebral Palsy.

Every summer, on Sophie’s birthday, her father’s generous employers hold an outdoor fundraising barbecue and party known as Sophie’s Star. Over the years this worthy celebration has grown into one of this small town’s major social events, with local bands playing and people dancing, the crowds getting bigger every year. Thousands of dollars have been raised for the cause, little Sophie has become something of a small town celebrity (you can see cars driving by with “Sophie’s Star” bumper stickers), and this annual birthday gala has had the wonderful effect of bringing this good community of ours together in ways that are very rewarding and very special.

And the funds thus raised are indeed critical. The medical expenses involved in the continuous ongoing treatment and therapy required for children with Cerebral Palsy are truly staggering. But thanks to the open-hearted generosity of this little community, all of Sophie’s needs have thus far been met. Among these treatments are annual visits to the Children’s Hospital in Boston for her Botox/Phenol shots. Because this is an invasive procedure, and the patient is put to sleep during the operation, it is considered a form of minor surgery.

Three summers ago, in July of 2005, I joined the family for this annual trip to the hospital in Boston. Among all of her other worthy attributes, little Sophie is boundlessly courageous and brave. She faces these ongoing assaults to her little body without complaint. In fact, she appears to be genetically incapable of self-pity — an admirable quality inherited no doubt from her loving parents.

After the operation, as we sat waiting in the hospital lobby for Sophie to awaken from her sleep, I was watching all the busy people hurrying by. The doctors, the nurses, the medical technicians, administrators and various hospital employees, all preoccupied with the fulfillment of their various missions, all serving that one major over-riding mission: To help people in their time of need, and to save lives, to save as many lives as they could possibly save. Many of these people had sacrificed and given up much of their personal lives just to be able to be here today, performing their missions, one of which, had been our lovely Sophie’s minor operation.

Earlier that day, July 7, 2005, three thousand miles away, in London, another kind of operation had just taken place. One in which the people involved had also sacrificed and given up much of their personal lives just to be able to be here this day, to perform their missions. Four young men — Shahzad Tanweer, 22, who had attended Leeds Metropolitan University, where he studied sports science; Hasib Hussain, 18, from Leeds; Mohammed Sidique Khan, 30, born in Pakistan, from Dewsbury; and Lindsey Germaine, a Jamaican-born resident of Aylesbury had just fulfilled their various tasks. Together with their accomplices, they had just succeeded in perpetrating the biggest single terrorist attack ever on British soil, in what came to be known as the London Underground Bombings. Their particular ‘operation’ was, for them, I suppose a success: they had succeeded in killing thirty-three innocent people that day and had wounded countless others.

Waiting in that crowded hospital lobby that July afternoon, watching all those busy preoccupied people rushing by me on their way to perform their various tasks, and remembering all of those good people back home who had come together so joyously and lovingly to make this particular operation possible, to make little Sophie’s Star shine brightly for another year, it all became so crystal clear to me. I was thinking about those other people, those four dead Muslim men and their still-living accomplices, and all of their Muslim brothers and sisters who would be celebrating right now, and would be looking up to these four dead murderers now as righteous heroes and martyrs.

Little Sophie would be fine, we would take her home that evening, and she’d be talking the whole way home.

And across the ocean, thirty-three innocent people were not fine, and would not be going home that evening, and thirty-three families would be forever altered.

So, I suppose you could say, both operations had been successful.