A small Aladdin’s Cave, the Children’s Bookshop in Lindley, Huddersfield. Two sisters chose their next books and then continued their enjoyment of the shop, the company of stories, colours and adventures.
Eventually, it was time to go. Lucia was kneeling on the floor, a few pages into another book that had nodded to her as she scanned along the shelves. A story of a girl in South Africa, and a white giraffe. “Do you want to swap, and take that book instead?” She thought for a moment. “No, it’s OK. Next time.” No need to write down the information, the book was clearly stored in her mind.
A few days later and a couple of hours drive down the road we stopped in a village in search of lunch and a cuppa. A pie shop supplied the first. A second-hand book sale in a village hall supplied the second. Tea swallowed, we wandered around the tables of books. There it was again. The White Giraffe, by Lauren St John. Excellent condition. As though it was waiting for us, so it came with us.
It came on holiday to Spain. Lucia started reading it in the back of the hired car. The car that broke down. Hours later, and only after driving away from Granada airport in a replacement car, we discovered The White Giraffe was not with us. It must have stayed in the pouch behind the passenger seat in the car we left behind.
A few months later and eight-year-old Lucia was in Birmingham Children’s Hospital, recovering from her first liver transplant. Lucia wrote a short leaflet of dos and don’ts in caring for patients in recovery. “Don’t – keep telling me how good I’m looking when I don’t feel like it.” “Do – tell me stories, or read to me…” We did. We finished a few short books that were in Lucia’s bag when she was admitted in a hurry, the week before. They were hard going. We all thought so. But we’d started so we’d finish, making them more tolerable with a variety of silly accents, not sticking too closely to the words on the page and inventing our own alternative dialogue for the characters as we went along.
Eventually, they were done. I ran from the hospital to one of the city’s bookshops, the last customer squeezed in before closing time. I knew what I was looking for and, not finding it on the shelf, I asked an assistant. She looked doubtful but went to look. When all the other customers had gone, the security man looking between me and his watch, she returned. “You’re in luck. It wasn’t where it should have been. Must have been re-shelved by mistake. Bit dusty from the storeroom but brand new.” Half an hour later, for the third time, Lucia started The White Giraffe. This time, we read it aloud to her, good company for her hospital recovery.
A year later, Lucia was on the transplant list again. We read the second book in the series, Dolphin Song, as we waited to see if a call would come.
As we finished reading that story, another was beginning.
“I’d like to thank the author for writing those books,” Lucia said.” They’re good stories, and they’ve been great for me in hospital.”
“Well, you can. Why don’t you?”
“Really? How can you do that?”
“We can find the address for the publishers, and they’ll pass it on.”
So, Lucia wrote to Lauren St John. Not for a response, just to say thank you. But a gracious response did come, a note, a poster of Dolphin Song, a bookmark and another book, The Last Leopard. In time to take into the Children’s Hospital, hoping we could read it to Lucia if her second transplant went well.
We read two more books that time. Lucia enjoyed them all, every word of them. Stories that nurtured her kindness, encouraged her empathy, kindled her curiosity, strengthened her resolve as she followed the adventures of strong young women, each inspiring her love of skilful writing and ambition to try it for herself.
So, last year, as Lucia began to come round from that fourth transplant, one more book by Lauren St John, Snow Angel. Whatever the difference between the book’s target ages and her own, Lucia wanted to hear the story. In its pages, a girl looks for three magical moments each day to keep her going against the odds. Three things to be grateful for. We carried that on in the hospital whenever we could.
After Snow Angel, Lucia promised to write to Lauren St John again. We fulfilled her wish. Then, less than a year after Lucia died, a gracious request came back from Lauren, to dedicate her new book to Lucia. An invitation to us to add a note about Lucia, to include something of her light and energy in the last pages of Lauren’s book.
Wave Riders was published in June this year. Orphaned twins, sailing in the Caribbean, lose their guardian to a crashing wave and find themselves soaked in a mystery about their own identity. An engrossing adventure. Lucia would have listened intently to every word, eyes suddenly widening at some images that would have caught us all by surprise.
The book is on its own journey now, out there in a sea of readers. And, thanks to a gathering of gratitude, Wave Riders carries another story, a precious passenger and her invitation to us all to Live Loudly, Donate Proudly.
Gratitude, the time taken to turn round and say thank you, became such an essence of Lucia. Her gratitude to donors above all.
Gratitude for life and the chances she had been given.
Gratitude for the kindness of others, to Lucia, to her family, and everywhere she saw it in others.
Gratitude for the people in the hospitals who gave her their skill and attention…
Gratitude for the Transplant Games and the incredible opportunities to laugh and compete and train and dance and sing and feel the strength of that outstanding family.
Gratitude for friends, for school, for…the beach.
Gratitude for the unnamed goodness that she sensed in her life and encouraged in the lives of those around her.
And giving voice, action, to her gratitude.
That’s what started Live Loudly Donate Proudly. It’s not really a campaign. It’s a “thank you” that is “paid forward” because it can never be paid in full.
And just like that innocent wish as we finished reading the last words of Dolphin Song – “I’d like to say thank you”, you can never know where a simple act of kindness from a grateful heart can lead…