On Second Thought: City of Brotherly Love lives up to name

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 18, 2024

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By Marie Harrison

For the Clemmons Courier

Let’s be clear. I’m not paid to endorse the city of Philadelphia, but after our recent visit there, I’m pretty sure they want me on their payroll because I can’t stop talking about how much we loved the entire city. 

The “City of Brotherly Love” most definitely lived up to its name but let me start from the beginning and explain why we chose to venture up north.

The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) is one of the top pediatric hospitals in the country, and for good reason. Skyscraper towers line the city landscape, full of doctors and researchers devoted to finding cures and testing out new treatments for pediatric diseases.

In a world where pediatric research is often pushed to the back burner in favor of adults who can gift large endowments and pay handsome sums, it was encouraging to see so much time and effort being put into the “least of these.” That time and effort is exactly why we were visiting CHOP and Philadelphia.

The top researcher and doctor for my daughter’s rare disease calls CHOP home, and he was looking for patients to participate in a study to test the effects of exercise and vitamin B on progression and severity of Friedreich’s Ataxia. Given that my daughter has such a rare disease, the field of people eligible for this study is small. Seven years into the research and my daughter was only number 113. Yet, my daughter had a strong sense of conviction once she heard of the study, she wanted to help, she wanted to be part of finding a cure, she wanted to fight back and take control over a disease that often leaves her powerless. And so, that’s how we found ourselves on a plane headed for Philadelphia. 

Despite all the baseline testing my daughter had to endure: MRI’s, IV’s, blood glucose, cardio fitness, etc., each stop on our journey through CHOP we were met with the kindest people: the nurse who had the same birthday as my daughter and called her “twinnie,” the exercise physiologist who had gotten her Masters at Wake Forest and could tell us the best places for our daughter to ride her new bike, the two members of the research team who chatted books and the “National Treasure” movies with my daughter as we moved through hallways, everyone just went above and beyond. 

Truthfully, you would expect that in a children’s hospital. These young people are sick. In a time of their lives when their biggest worry should be whether they get dessert after dinner, these children instead endure countless doctors’ appointments and daily struggles that most adults couldn’t even fathom. And if only the people at CHOP had been kind to us, we still would have loved Philadelphia, but as it turns out, the kindness and love went far beyond the hospital walls. 

Taking in all the “touristy” sites like the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall and Reading Terminal Market, we were shocked to see so many people rush to get the door for a child in a wheelchair. There was a gentleman we met in the park, who went out of his way to tell us the building we needed to visit to see amazing architecture and ironwork inside, even going so far as to tell us which entrances to use that would make navigating a wheelchair easier.

There was a security guard who had trained a squirrel with a chocolate bar and was eager to show my daughter all the squirrel’s cool tricks and a bus driver who angled his bus and blocked two lanes of traffic just so we could cross the street at an easier spot. The list goes on and on with the kindness and love shown to my child throughout the whole city of Philadelphia. In a city known for its brotherly love, the residents sure seemed to understand the assignment. 

And as I think back on the trip, and all the love shown to a child in a wheelchair, I can’t help but think that this is what Jesus means by loving the least of these.

In her short life so far, my daughter has to endure countless “friends” abandoning her because she can’t run or jump or do the same things as other able-bodied kids, or having to sit through a class talk about a field trip to a place she can’t go because it’s not wheelchair accessible.

Through all these hardships, my daughter hasn’t lost faith in God or the belief that there is still good in the world because of people like the ones we met in Philadelphia. People who went out of their way to help someone who needed help. And isn’t this what Jesus is teaching us all in Matthew 25. To offer food to the hungry, to give drinks to the thirsty, to help the sick and needy, because when you do this to the “least of these,” those that can’t repay or those that need the most help, you are really doing it to Jesus himself. If we truly claim to be followers of Jesus, maybe we all need to take a step back and ask ourselves what we are doing for the least of these? Because I’m convinced that if we all actively seek out the needy and the lost and the least of these, every city can become a “City of Brotherly Love.”