A BOOK OF LIFE

As Suzanne Collinson waited anxiously for the man who was coming to visit her, she could not help but wonder if her life had ever really mattered. Sadly, she believed she knew the answer, and it hurt to feel so useless. To think that she had somehow managed to live into her eighties without making a bit of difference in the world was deeply disturbing.

In the daily effort to fight off her despondency. she had tried her best to stay busy and keep her mind active, but losing her beloved husband, Jeffrey three months earlier had only added to her struggles. More and more, she found herself overwhelmed with regret that she’d spent over four decades working as a teacher with nothing to show for it but a retirement check from the state.

But the disappointment over her career paled in comparison to the unspeakable horror that changed her life forever.

Anytime she thought back over her long marriage, the same defining moment always dominated her memory. It was the moment that is most feared by all of humanity because it is the greatest tragedy that a person can experience. The devastating heartache unleashed by the ugliest reality of all had been psychologically and emotionally crippling. At the end of their second year of marriage, Suzanne and Jeffrey had lost their baby.

Jamie was born in 1961 but was soon diagnosed with a heart problem. Unfortunately, the surgical techniques of the time were not sufficient to save her. She only lived for three months, and after enduring the agony of watching her beautiful baby girl be lowered into the ground, Suzanne was never the same person.

As any parent who has suffered the unimaginable loss of a child knows, life can never be the same – and that was certainly true for Suzanne. For the next year, she was only able to function at a marginal level because of the love and support of Jeffrey.

Consumed by debilitating depression, she seemed incapable of escaping the endless despair. Slowly over time, she realized she had to do something with her life or she would just fade away into her grief. Finally, on the first anniversary of Jamie’s passing, Suzanne made the decision to finish her education and become a teacher.

She began teaching fulltime at the high school level in September of 1963, and for the next forty years, she devoted herself completely to the success of her students in a way that inspired them to reach their true potential. Whatever it took to help them achieve their goals, she was willing to do.

Through the course of her career, she had many students that made a lasting impression on her, but there was one individual who stood out from all the others. She met him when she was teaching freshman English.

Adrien Brickman was a fifteen-year-old young man who caught Suzanne’s eye on the first day of school in 1981. Being one of only three black students (the other two were females) he attracted a tremendous amount of unwanted attention that made him uncomfortable. Unfortunately, his ethnicity plus his overall physical appearance combined to make others focus on him without mercy.

The clothes Adrien wore were ragged ill-fitting hand me downs that the other students found laughable. His out of style glasses were held together with tape and one lens was cracked. Alarmingly thin and gaunt, he looked disheveled in a way that made it clear he was living in poverty. To make matters worse, he was also extremely soft-spoken and had difficulty making eye contact. In Suzanne’s mind there was just no other word to describe him other than vulnerable – and it all combined to make him an immediate target for every bully in the school.

But, amazingly, no matter how many times his books were thrown to the floor, he was shoved against a locker or he was confronted by a group that punched and kicked him, Adrien did not retaliate. He always refused to fight back. It wasn’t that he was afraid, it was just a conscious decision not to respond.

However, the most disgusting behavior was the endless stream of racial slurs he was forced to endure. Although the bullies were careful to engage in their abuse when teachers and other members of the administration were not around, their continual torment helped to foster a common belief among the student body that Adrien did not belong there, and, therefore, they should not be expected to accept him.

It did not take long for Suzanne to learn about his appalling treatment, and it infuriated her.

In her classroom, Adrien rarely spoke and no one made any attempt to connect with him. It seemed to her that his loneliness and isolation were overwhelming. Although she did everything she could to include him, each attempt to give him some attention just made him more uncomfortable.

However, despite whatever issues he had going on in his life, and the degrading way he was being treated by the other students, it quickly became apparent to Suzanne that he was extremely intelligent and that he had a deep passion for learning.

But Suzanne also began to notice that Adrien frequently became lethargic during the afternoons, and she suspected he wasn’t eating any lunch. He certainly didn’t bring anything from home, and she wondered if he could afford to buy it.

It didn’t take long to discover that he sat by himself in the cafeteria and spent his time reading. A quick conversation with the lunchroom personnel confirmed that he never ate a thing. At that point, she knew she had to step in. For the next eight months, without his knowledge, Suzanne paid for his lunch every day. She asked the cafeteria staff to be discreet but to make sure that he ate.

Immediately there was a significant improvement in his attention span and energy level late in the day, and it made her feel good to see him concentrate and apply himself without the distraction of hunger.

But that was not the only way that Suzanne helped.

Adrien soon discovered that all of the books, materials, and supplies he needed for class mysteriously appeared out of thin air, and it wasn’t long before he started finding new clothes and pairs of shoes in his locker. He quickly began to suspect that Mrs. Collinson was buying everything with her own money, and even at that young age, he started to make plans on how he could someday pay her back for all of her kindness.

As she continued to work with him, she was increasingly impressed by how smart he was and by his insatiable curiosity. Suzanne had never encountered another student as gifted as Adrien and certainly not another one as eager to learn.

Although the relentless bullying continued, he absorbed the punishment without complaint, always refusing to fight back. But not everything about school was bad. It did not take long before the relationship between Adrien and Suzanne grew into one of mutual respect. Once he realized that his teacher truly cared about him as a student and was doing possible to help him be successful, he developed a trust in her that he had never had with an adult.

Suzanne soon found out that Adrien lived with his maternal grandmother who was in poor health and struggling to provide a home for them. His mother had dropped out of his life when he was a young child, and he never knew his father.

Through no fault of his own, all of the odds were stacked against him – but, fortunately, his exceptional intelligence was his saving grace, and that was the glimmer of hope that Suzanne was determined to keep alive.

However, everything almost came crashing to a halt at the end of the third month of the school year.

Suzanne had just left her classroom, and as she turned the corner of a long hallway, she saw one of the bullies push a Special Ed student with Down syndrome. The young man lost his balance and fell against a metal locker cutting the top of his head. Afraid to get up, the young boy cowered in fear from the much larger aggressor.

She began to run toward the attacker who stood over the injured student taunting him, but suddenly from the other direction, Adrien came sprinting at full speed. Just as the individual drew back to kick his helpless victim, Adrien leaped at the bully knocking him backward to the floor. As a surge of raw emotion flooded over him, he had the strength to wrestle the attacker into position and hold him down while his victim got to his feet and moved away.

As Suzanne got closer to them, she could see the weeks of pent up anger that had been released in Adrien. A second later, the vice principal came running from behind her, shouting at everyone to stop. Filled with rage, Adrien ignored the command. The vice-principal quickly got to them and pulled him off the bully.

The incident unnerved Suzanne. She was sickened that a student would attack a person who had little ability to defend himself, and she was shocked that after refusing to fight for so long Adrien had come to the young man’s defense.

The next morning, all parties involved, including Suzanne, gathered for a meeting with the principal and the school board to determine the appropriate punishment for the assault.

The parents of the teenager who had attacked the innocent young man fiercely defended their son, and it was evident to Suzanne where his belligerent attitude came from. The mother of the young victim, who received several stitches in his scalp, was considering legal action if the bully was not permanently removed from the school. And Adrien, who had no one to represent him, sat and listened stoically.

After a brief consultation with the other school board members, the principal decided that the attacker should be permanently expelled from the school district prompting loud hateful threats of reprisals from his parents as they left the room. The principal then offered a heartfelt apology to the victim and his mother – but at that point, something happened that utterly shocked Suzanne.

The principal turned to Adrien and, without a trace of emotion in his voice, explained that because of the school’s strict rules regarding physical violence directed at either students or staff, he believed he had no choice but to also permanently expel Adrien from the district because of his participation in the incident.

Before she could stop to think, Suzanne exploded in anger. This was completely unfair and beyond understanding. How much cruelty was this young person supposed to endure? Without hesitating she gave the school board an ultimatum; if they expelled Adrien she would resign on the spot. With intense determination, Suzanne demanded that she be given the opportunity to defend him.

The board members were startled by her abrupt behavior, but they agreed to allow her to speak on Adrien’s behalf.

She launched into a passionate explanation of how Adrien was only coming to the aid of an individual with a disability and that the action he took prevented the young man from being injured further again. She pointed out that he did not initiate the attack but rather he tried to stop it.

Suzanne then took the opportunity to describe in stark detail how Adrien himself had been a constant target for verbal and physical abuse since the first day of school – and yet he had never once fought back or attempted to defend himself in any way. But in this particular case, he had come to the aid of someone who could not stand up for himself, and she drove home the point that instead of expelling him, they should be thanking him for his compassion and courage.

Sitting in silence, Adrien was stunned by what was happening. Terrified to think he could be expelled, he was even more shocked by his teacher’s defense. No one had ever stood up for him before, let alone risk their career for him. But there was no doubt in his mind that her threat was real – and the school board believed her too.

A lengthy debate followed as the board tried to gauge how much negative publicity would reign down on the district if they expelled the only black male in the school for coming to the defense of an individual who was vulnerable.

After several more minutes of heated arguments, cooler heads prevailed, and, although it was a close vote, Suzanne’s staunch defense of her student won the day. It was determined that Adrien would not be expelled.

It was a singular moment that changed the rest of his life, and eventually the lives of many other people.

For the next few days, Suzanne and Adrien avoided talking about the assault, but finally after a week or so she just had to know why he had chosen that particular time to fight back after he had refused to defend himself whenever he was the one being bullied.

His response defined his character. Adrien told her that while there was nothing he could do to stop being a target for those who wanted to hurt him, he did have a choice in how he responded, and he had decided that violence was something he wanted no part of. But the day he saw someone being attacked who was vulnerable, it was different. Adrien believed he had to take action simply because it was the right thing to do.

Suzanne was now even more impressed by the young man. His moral sense of right and wrong was just as strong as his intellect, and she knew it was a powerful combination that would benefit him as an adult. As the school year progressed, their student-teacher bond grew even closer, and she was pleased to play a part in his scholastic achievements.

Convinced that Adrien was meant to play an important role in life, she was certain that with his abilities he only had to choose the field he wanted to enter, and he would excel beyond all expectations. Suzanne believed that his future was unlimited.

But then suddenly, as it had so many times before, life dealt Adrien yet another crushing blow. Near the end of the school year, his grandmother passed away not only breaking his heart but leaving him alone without a place to live. Within a few days, he was forced to accept the only option he had. Although it was not by choice, he moved across the country to live with an aunt and uncle he had never met.

Suzanne was struck with genuine sadness not only for his personal loss but also because she feared that the dramatic change in his circumstances might hinder his opportunities to achieve personal success. Realizing that the chance to have a continuing positive impact on his life was lost, she resigned herself to the distressing fact that she would probably never know how his life turned out.

Sure enough, over time, her worst fears came true, and they eventually lost touch. But through all of the years, no matter what happened in her own life, she never forgot him. Any time Suzanne looked back over her career, Adrien was the one student that stood out in her mind. She could only hope that he had continued his education and had been allowed to live the life he deserved.

That was why she was both shocked and thrilled when, out of the blue, she’d received a phone call from him earlier in the week. Suzanne was so grateful that he’d made the effort to reach out to her that just hearing his voice had moved her to tears. But when Adrien asked if he could come and spend an afternoon with her, she was absolutely delighted. Actually getting to see her former student seemed almost too good to be true.

Adrien had explained that the reason he wanted to see her was so he could hand-deliver a personal gift. In his words, it was a gift that she had helped create. Suzanne didn’t understand what that meant, but it didn’t matter. She was overjoyed just at the prospect of seeing him again.

The next few days crawled by, and the anticipation of Adrien’s visit made it impossible for her to concentrate on anything else. Suzanne was surprised by how nervous she felt as she counted down the last few hours, but finally, it was time. He had flown out that morning and now as she waited for him to arrive at her house, she could hardly contain her excitement.

Suzanne was looking out the window when the cab pulled up in front of the modest home that she and Jeffrey had shared for more than forty years. When the car door opened, she could hardly believe it was Adrien. He was so tall, with a small amount of gray in his hair, and he looked so distinguished. He was dressed in slacks and a sport coat, and he was carrying the gift-wrapped present he had promised.

As she made her way to the front door she wondered if he would be shocked by her appearance. Suzanne feared that the intervening decades had not been kind, but there was nothing she could do about it.

When the doorbell rang, she paused, took a deep breath to calm herself and then opened it wide.

The former student broke into a warm smile as he looked into the face of his favorite teacher, and in an instant the years melted away. Without saying a word, they embraced as tears began to burn Suzanne’s eyes.

Finally, Adrien stepped back. “Mrs. Collinson you haven’t changed a bit! You are just the way I remember you.”

She laughed. “First of all, you don’t need to call me Mrs. Collinson anymore. I’m just Suzanne. And secondly, you are not being truthful! I know I barely resemble the person I was forty years ago. But look at you! You are the one who has really changed.”

For Adrien, it was a dream come true to actually be holding the hands of the person who was so important to him.

Suzanne felt the same way. “I can’t believe you are really here! Please come inside.”

He followed her into her living room, and they sat down in comfortable chairs with a small table between them. Looking around at the tasteful decorations he said, “You have a lovely home.”

“Thank you.”

Adrien immediately noticed the shelves reaching from the floor to the ceiling filled with books. “This looks like the home of a teacher!”

“I remember how much you loved to read.”

“Yes, unfortunately, I don’t have as much time for it now as I would like, but I do manage to squeeze in a book whenever possible.”

Suzanne said, “Your thirst for knowledge was insatiable. I taught for forty years, but you were by far the most intelligent student I ever had.”

“That is kind of you to say, however, being smart would not have done me any good without your guidance to show me the way.”

“That was my job, and I was happy to do it!”

“Oh, I think you went far beyond the requirements of your job for me, and that has always made me wonder why you cared so much. Why did you go to such great lengths to help someone like me?”

Without hesitating, Suzanne said, “I could see you had the spark. It is extremely rare, and I only saw it a few times in my career, but it burned so brightly in you. I just couldn’t let it be extinguished because of the circumstances you were experiencing.”

Adrien said, “Well, whatever the reason, you didn’t you give up on me the way everyone else had up to that point, and I’ve never forgotten that.”

“I wanted you to have the same opportunities as my other students. There was so much difficulty in your life, I just thought maybe you could use someone in your corner.”

“That’s true. Having you on my side let me know that my life had value to someone. That is what made you such a terrific teacher. You knew just what to do.”

Suzanne tried to explain. “When a child is at risk, it is important to protect whatever stability is left in their life. In your case, it was obvious that school was the only consistent thing. That increased my sense of responsibility even more……But I could only do my best and hope it was enough.”

“It was more than enough! You were wonderful. Just knowing that someone cared about me and my future made all the difference.”

Adrien looked at his former teacher with sincere appreciation and said, “You know, it was only at the end of the school year that the manager of the cafeteria confirmed to me that you were the person who had been buying my lunch. I had suspected as much, but it was nice to know for sure.”

Suzanne waved her hand. “It was nothing. I just wanted you to be healthy and to be able to concentrate. You were so curious, and you learned so fast! I never had another student that could do that on your level.”

Adrien’s face grew serious. “Mrs. Collinson, I don’t know what would’ve become of me if you hadn’t entered my life. I mean, if you had not come to my defense after that fight and then mentored me throughout the year, I can’t say for sure how I would’ve ended up. But the fact that you believed in me made me believe in myself. I owe everything to you. The person I am today is the result of your compassion all those years ago.”

There was no way he could understand what his words meant to Suzanne. For the first time since her husband died, she felt genuine joy and happiness.

Unable to fight off her curiosity any longer she said, “So, please tell me how your life has unfolded. I’m so excited to hear about it!”

With a huge smile, he said, “Well, I’ve managed to stay busy. I have a beautiful wife of twenty-nine years and three wonderful grown children. Twin girls and a son.”

“That is wonderful! Do you have pictures?”

“Yes, I do!” Adrien reached in his pocket and pulled out his phone. Happily, they spent several minutes looking at photos while he beamed with pride.

Suzanne was impressed. “You have such a beautiful family! I’m so happy for you!”

“Thank you. Not having a real family growing up, I feel so blessed now.”

She paused for a moment and then said, “Adrien, I hate to keep being nosey, but I never thought I would get to have this conversation with you – so please indulge me. Were you able to go to college?”

With a bemused look on his face, he said, “Yes, it was challenging, but I made it.”

“So what kind of work do you do? No, wait. Let me guess. I think you might be an attorney.”

Adrien laughed. “No, but I’m married to one! She has been very successful in handling high profile cases.”

“She’s a lucky woman to have found you!”

Adrien shook his head. “I think it’s the other way around.”

“Well, let’s just say you were both lucky.”

Talking about marriage reminded Adrien of her recent loss. “I was so sorry to hear that Mr. Collinson passed away. When two people are willing to make a lifetime commitment to each other it’s one of the most beautiful things there is.”

Suzanne agreed. “We had a wonderful relationship. Jeffrey was a gentle and kind man. Early in our marriage, we endured a terrible tragedy, and I don’t think I could have survived it without having him by my side.”

With great sensitivity, Adrien said, “Mrs. Collinson, I know that you lost your daughter.”

Suzanne’s face clouded over at the mention of her child.

“I know that her name was Jamie, and I also know that she had Down syndrome.”

Suzanne was caught off guard. “How did you find out that my daughter had that diagnosis?”

“After the school board hearing where you threatened to resign, one of the members said that the reason you were so passionate in your defense of me was because you were impressed that I chose to stand up for that particular individual. They explained that you had lost a little girl who had Down syndrome and that she died from a heart issue.”

Suzanne was shocked to realize that he had known this entire time. With her voice shaking, she said, “That’s right. She was so precious, but we only got to have her for three months.”

Adrien nodded. “Yes, in those days, heart problems like hers were usually fatal. As a father, I can’t even begin to comprehend the pain you must have felt.”

Suzanne said, “It was almost sixty years ago, and it still hurts to think about. I believe that losing a child is a pain that never fades.”

In a knowing voice, Adrien said, “That has been my experience.”

“What do you mean?”

“Unfortunately, in my profession, I am forced to deal with the reality of death every day. But, of course, it is because of death that we learn to cherish the value of every life.”

Suzanne could no longer withstand the intense curiosity that was overwhelming her. “Adrien, what is it that you do?”

With modesty bordering on embarrassment, he said, “I am a cardiovascular surgeon. More specifically, I’m a pediatric heart surgeon.”

Suzanne was amazed. “Oh my God. That is incredible! I always knew you would do well!”

Adrien sighed. “Yes, it is immensely gratifying work – but as a surgeon, you understand just how fragile human life is and that in order to protect it, your very best effort is required at all times. The fact that I have been blessed with a certain level of skill along with having access to the latest tools and technology gives me a fighting chance each time I face a patient who is putting their life in my hands.”

Suzanne looked at him with profound respect and said, “I would not hesitate to put my life in your hands.”

Adrien marveled at how his teacher could still touch his heart after so many years. “Thank you, Mrs. Collinson.”

Then he smiled and said, “I think it’s time to give you your gift.” He handed her the colorfully wrapped package.

Suzanne gently scolded him. “Adrien a gift is not necessary. Just getting to see you again and hearing about your life is all I need.”

“Respectfully, I disagree. This gift is necessary, for both you and me. It’s important that I am able to give it to you, and it’s important that you understand what you mean to me.”

Although Suzanne was confused, she carefully unwrapped the package and was delighted to see that it was a book in a luxurious leather-bound binder. Considering the weight of it, she thought it must be some kind of photo album. On the cover, printed in delicate gold calligraphy were the words A BOOK OF LIFE.

She was impressed by how beautiful it was, but she still didn’t understand. “What is this?”

With great warmth, he said, “It is a book I had made just for you that contains photos and descriptions of one hundred children that you and I have saved.”

She didn’t think she had heard him correctly. “What?”

Adrien said, “Each one of the children in this book is alive because of you. And, thankfully, their parents were spared the heartbreak that you were forced to endure.”

“Oh my God.” Her hands began to tremble as she held the book.

Adrien waited patiently for her to regain her composure before he continued. “Each time I asked a parent for their permission to use their child’s information, I carefully described how it was to be used as a gift for you, and they readily agreed. Not one family turned me down.”

Suzanne fought the tears that were stinging her eyes.

Adrien reached over and patted her on the shoulder. “Please, go ahead and open it so I can explain.”

She carefully lifted the cover and emblazoned on the first page were the words:

 

The joy contained in this book reflects the value and worth of every person.

 

“That is lovely.” Now with her hands literally shaking, Suzanne turned the page and what she saw stunned her. Centered at the top was the last picture ever taken of her daughter.

The inscription below the photo read:

 

In Loving Memory of Jamie Lynn Collinson.

A beautiful child who did not live her brief life in vain.

Her positive influence is still being felt today.

 

Seeing her daughter’s image and reading the words Adrien had written momentarily overwhelmed her and took Suzanne back to another time. A time when she was a young mother hugging a baby she loved more than life itself but who she was powerless to save.

Adrien could sense how she was feeling, and he wanted to comfort her while making sure that she appreciated the vital role she played in sparing other families the same agony that she and her husband had faced.

Affectionately, he said, “This book is the result of your efforts to help me escape from a life with little hope and few prospects for success. Because your support sustained me at a crucial time in my life, I was eventually able to pursue my dream of becoming a surgeon and making a difference for families that experienced the same situation you lived through so many years ago.”

Slowly, Suzanne turned the page and the first child’s photo and description made her heart skip a beat. It was another photo of an infant with Down syndrome. It gave a detailed biography of him and his family, as well as his date of birth and the date of his heart surgery.

She turned the next page and it was also a child with Down syndrome. She quickly thumbed through several more and realized that every child in the book was just like her Jamie. They were all listed in chronological order of when Adrien had performed their surgery.

No longer able to hold back the tears, she sat perfectly still as the true meaning of the gift sank in.

After a few moments, Suzanne said, “This is the most thoughtful and considerate gift I’ve ever heard of. I can’t wait to sit and read about each child……But I’ve got to ask, how did you get the picture of our daughter?”

“From your husband. Each one of these patients received the heart surgery that would’ve saved Jamie. When I realized I was about to perform my one-hundredth procedure, I wanted you to know what an important role you played in allowing me to help these families so I contacted Jeffrey, and he thought the book was a wonderful idea. He provided me with the photo and information about your little girl – but then, tragically, he passed away just a few weeks later.”

Suzanne struggled to find the words to express her gratitude. “Adrien, I don’t know how to thank you. This is unbelievable. I can’t begin to imagine how much trouble you went to. The book is priceless, and I want you to know that this is by far the sweetest thing that anyone has ever done for me!”

Adrien was pleased. “I’m so happy you like it – but there’s something else I’d like to explain……You were the perfect role model for me because you were compassionate and giving without expecting anything in return. As a result of your example, I did not charge the families for any of the procedures in this book. I always waive my fee for any child with Down syndrome in honor of you and Jamie.”

Suzanne gasped and covered her mouth.

“I do it in the same spirit that you did when you paid for my lunches, purchased all of my classroom materials, and bought me clothing. Happily, it is my opportunity to give back by performing their procedures at no cost to them. That ensures that every child receives the surgery no matter what their family’s economic situation. I want each of them to have a chance in life – just like you gave me a chance.”

The former teacher was astounded. “That is unheard of in this day and age. It is unbelievably generous of you.”

Adrien shook his head. “I don’t look at it that way. I believe I’m just repaying a debt I owe to you. Because I have the ability to fix the atrioventricular septal defect that claimed Jamie, I feel a responsibility to these families. I can’t allow them to be denied a lifetime with their child just because of their financial circumstances.

“But, unfortunately, I do sometimes see families who are forced to grieve the loss of a loved one. And far too often, one of their biggest regrets is what was left unsaid. They always wish they could thank them one more time for being a part of their lives. They feel anguish that they didn’t take more opportunities to tell that person just how much they meant to them. They would give anything to have one more chance to tell the person they loved them.

“So, I decided I did not want to make the same mistake. That’s why I wanted to visit you today so I could show you that all of your hard work paid off. It was the faith you had in me that made all the difference. You gave me hope when no one else believed in me. And because of your support, you provided me with tremendous motivation because I didn’t want to let you down.”

Suzanne could barely control her emotions. “You are giving me far too much credit. You were the one who made the effort. Even though your life was extremely challenging, you were persistent and you persevered when most people would have given up.”

“But of all the people in my life, you had the most impact. You are directly responsible for my success.”

Suzanne instinctively disagreed. “No, no. That’s not true.”

Adrien was firm. “Yes, it is. The nine months I spent with you as my teacher has had a lasting effect on me. Everything I learned from you about life I’ve tried to share with others. That is why your influence continues to this day.”

“How can that be possible?”

“Mrs. Collinson, it’s important to remember that when we touch one life, we have no way of knowing the ripple effect it will have on others. The kindness and compassion you extended to me, has now been passed on to these one hundred children as well as to every person who loves them. In each case, all of their lives were transformed in the most beautiful way.”

He looked at her tenderly. “It requires great confidence and courage for a surgeon to step into an operating theater and attempt to save a human being’s life. Mrs. Collinson, my confidence and courage came from you.”

Very softly he said, “Please don’t think that your life didn’t matter. It is because of you that I’ve had the privilege of helping to save the lives of the beautiful children in this book.”

Then in a tone of voice that conveyed his love and admiration for the person who had changed his life, Adrien said, “I just wanted you to understand that each time I hold a tiny beating heart in my hands, you are there with me.”

Completely overcome, Suzanne stood up and held out her arms. Adrien rose from his chair, bent down and hugged her in a warm embrace, as both of them thought about how lucky they were to have entered each other’s life.

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