Usually my favorite place to be is with Jamie and the boys. However, today, there is only one place I could imagine being…in the hospital.

Yesterday I flew to North Carolina to be with my oldest, longest, best childhood friend, Nancy. Today her 12-year-old daughter, Madeline, had back surgery. Nancy spent hours with me in the hospital in South Bend and recovering in San Diego. How could I not spend time with her while she waited for the surgeons to straighten Madeline’s spine. I didn’t know if I would be much help, but I had to be here.

Turns out, when you have known someone for over 30 years – and her husband for over 20 – there is a lot to talk about while sitting in the hospital all day. We set up Twitter accounts and tweeted back and forth to each other while sitting two feet apart; we made signs for Madeline to hang in her room, we periodically texted family members with updates, we laughed, ate and laughed some more.

Madeline’s surgery went well. Very well. Her curvature had progressed since the xrays were taken in July – but she is straight now. She’s fused from T-5 to L-3; I’m fused from T-8 to L-1. So Madeline wins. They used a mix of her own bone and cadaver bone for the fusion; I have a mix of cadaver bone and my own for my fusion. “They used to use bone from the hip, but we stopped that practice in the mid-90s,” her surgeon said. Well, that’s why they used my hip bone in the EARLY 90s. I’m old.

Madeline is not. While waiting during surgery was long, it wasn’t as long as the hour her parents had to wait to see her once she was out of surgery. I can not imagine their angst. I also couldn’t imagine my reaction to seeing her when she was finally wheeled into her room. She was swollen, yes (we knew she’d be), but she was beautiful. And so young. I was struck by how emotional it was for me to be there – struck by the true privilege to share this very intimate moment between parents and child. And even having spent the day with them, waiting, I still didn’t understand the depth of the emotions they must feel.

Late in the afternoon I had a brief email exchange with my dad. It was heartfelt, which I noted as not common for my dad. And then I got it. He understood. He understood what I could not: being a parent, a father, who watched his daughter taken away for back surgery. And so my dad sent strength they best way he could: across the miles through me.

I miss my three boys when I travel, but today I was grateful to be away. Grateful for the opportunity to sit with Nancy and Brett. Grateful for the friend who cared for my boys so I could be with another friend she’s never met. Grateful for the exchange I had with my dad that reminded me how much a parent never stops loving a child. But most of all, I am grateful that Madeline will stand straight and pain free and live the life she deserves. Prayers answered!