Although our character strengths are always with us, it sometimes takes adversity to bring them to the fore and for us to see the strengths in others. Life happens in unexpected ways. My experience made me fall with love with the Ronald McDonald House and appreciate the strengths of people around me. When I was 25 weeks pregnant with my first child, I was diagnosed with severe pre-eclampsia. At the time I was living in North Carolina, and was admitted to the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill Medical Center.
I gave birth to my son at 28 weeks into the pregnancy. He was admitted to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). He only weighed 2lbs and 10oz. and had pneumonia, was intubated, and had mild eye problems. My husband and I were on active duty in the Air Force. He was stationed in Maryland and could only stay with us a few days before he had to return. I had no car and was stationed about 90 minutes away from the hospital. A social worker spoke with me about different options available to me, including the Ronald McDonald House. I was not sure what to expect, but I experienced such gratitude for the support I was offered and for the fact that I had a place to stay that was close so I could be there for my son.
When I arrived at the Ronald McDonald house the staff was amazing. I met everyone who worked there and who volunteered on a regular basis. It was extremely warm and inviting. My room had 2 beds and I had my own bathroom - perfect for me. I could tell that the staff did what they did out of love.
My daily schedule consisted of going to the hospital and sitting by my son’s bedside in the NICU. Thankfully, I was able to do this because I had 8 weeks paid maternity leave. At the house, before I would leave for the hospital, I normally would eat cereal from the pantry. Everything in the kitchen was for us to enjoy; one less thing to be concerned about while taking care of my son. And... we had McDonalds for dinner a few nights a week. I loved that!
Visiting my son every day, my perspective changed. I went from a woman who thought I would have a normal pregnancy to a woman who had to be strong for my son while he was going through his battle to become healthy so I could bring him home. I met families in the house who would not bring their children home, and I met children who knew they would not be going home. I was the most scared and most grateful I had been in my life all at the same time. The love that poured out from people was astounding.
Life is such a precious thing, and being able to meet some of the bravest people and hear the experiences they had left me a better person. I met a 12-year-old young lady, who was staying at the house in preparation for a lung transplant. She was curious about my situation and me being in the Air Force. She showed a genuine interest. We talked, and she told me about herself. I had already spoken to her mom before we met, who shared with me how dire her daughter’s situation was. As I sat and listened to this young lady who was trying to be there for me. I saw the epitome of hope and spirituality. She knew the fight she had and still displayed the strength to be there for others. She was also funny and showed me even with the fight she had ahead of her, she had that humorous side. I will never forget the impact that interaction had on me.
This was only one of the many families I met that were going through their own personal experience. I was able to see how lucky I was, and how connected we all are on some level.
Graduation day finally came for my son. My husband was at last able to take this sweet boy home. When I went to check out, I was told I owed nothing for my stay. After 2 months of kindness and support for me and my family, all they asked was a donation if I was able to provide one. I could not have been more blessed in that time in my life, in that moment. I had a comfortable place to stay, food, amenities and even visits from the college basketball team. We all know who played for that team - Michael Jordan. I might have met the next Michael Jordan!
One of the reasons I gravitate towards character strengths is because of the connection it leads to in relationships, by knowing my strengths and others. I was able to reflect as I wrote this and pick out the character strengths, I noticed of the people I encountered while staying at the RMDH. Their strengths came through in their values in action. This experience left me with a sense of community and showed me how strangers can come together and be there for one another for a purpose, and that our strengths shine when we face adversity.