In February 1994, my wife Cym and I had the honor and privilege
of meeting a young champion of knightly virtue at Seattle's Swedish
Hospital. Joseph Boyle, only three years old, loved knights. He would
happily and repeatedly sit through all of "Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves".
He had a castle play-area, tiny armed warriors, a plastic suit of armor
and a toy sword.
His parents heard that we teach hands-on classes in Medieval history
and asked if we would visit Joseph for his birthday. We try to re-create
the elements of the Middle Ages because we believe in the beauty of that
age; the chivalry, the honor, the quests of noble deeds. Such a quest was
before us now: "Of course we will come." We were to meet at their home
but received a call stating Joseph had returned to the children's cancer
ward due to a relapse, and "would we mind visiting him there?" We came in
full court costume with music, games, helms and chain mail and crowded
into his room. It was stuffed with family, friends, hospital staff, his
castle, medical monitors, toy knights and party paraphernalia. We sang
them songs, played music and games, put the party guests in armor and
observed a truly loving family, standing together against great odds.
After we left, I wrote a simple sonnet in tribute to the love I saw, a
love that bound them all. I called the poem "The Squire at War". When
next I visited, I gave them a copy. They posted it near Joseph's bed so
they could see and read it whenever they wished.
In later weeks, we continued to visit and brought them video tapes of
our Medieval re-enactments. When he was able to leave the hospital,
Joseph and his family would come by our tournament practice site to meet
"the knights doing battle." Our attempts to bring back the glory of the
past, to learn from it and renew its gifts for today's world meant a great
deal to Joseph. His obvious interest meant a great deal to us. We were
able to show him that his dream of knighthood was not just imaginary, but
real. It did exist, and he was part of it.
On Thursday, September 15, 1994, his mother called to tell me that
Joseph had died the day before. She told me, in a very calm voice, that
he was no longer in pain, but was with God. She thanked me for the poem,
our visits and for the fact that, through those visits, Joseph had seen
his dreams come to life.
Joseph was at home when he died. They had brought him there when
they knew his time with them was short, and there was nothing more the
medical world could do for him. As it was, Joseph lived five days beyond
all expectations. His mother said it was because he believed in the
strength of his warrior's heart. Near the end, Joseph did not want to
wear his plastic armor anymore because young 'Sir' Joseph felt "only a
healthy knight should be in armor." He would, however, lie upon the
floor, weakened and in pain, holding yet his sword. His Mother told me
that they would bury their son with that sword by his side. Without
knowing it, they had re-created one of the most ancient parting rituals
known: the burying of a personal weapon with a warrior gone on to the
At the funeral, the church was filled with more than a thousand
people, each touched in some way by Joseph's short life. At his parents
request, we came wearing our Medieval clothes. They said that was the
only way Joseph would know us. We were honored, and surprised, to find
that the memorial pamphlet contained a picture of Joseph with his sword
and the poem.
At the graveside, I gave Joseph's Mother my right spur so she would
always have remembrance of us. I also carved into my Knights belt and
dropped the pieces into the freshly dug grave in tribute to Joseph's
courage. I vowed never to wear another right spur and to never repair the
belt so I would always be reminded of him. That is why I only wear one
spur to this day and why my belt is scarred, so others may ask about them
and be told the tale of the best Knight I have ever known.
I never again will lack faith in what we can stand for, no matter how
many mistakes are made nor how great the travails of modern life. We,
each of us, live a beautiful possibility, a vulnerable reality, a delicate
truth. But as certain as we live, that truth can bring beauty into being,
and that beauty can give strength!
Joseph Boyle's battle with the dragon of Leukemia ended on September14, 1994. He was three and a half years old.
His family remains supportive and loving of life and Joseph's memory
and we have remained friends. They recently attended our wedding -- all
four of them: his mother, father, younger sister and the spirit of
Joseph, as inspiring an example of knightly ideals as I have ever known.
The following is in tribute to Joseph's -- and his family's -- fight.
In service, humility, sadness and hope, I remain GregRobin Smith (or as
Joseph knew me, "Sir Brand").
The Squire at War
by Sir Brand McLiam
"Not yet had summer's suns seen play enough.
No rivers had yet given up their catch.
Too little had the snowy drifts of fluff
Seen sleds of singing youth go hap'ply past.
Too soon the battle came to those at hand
And young, and younger still, were called to fight.
With weapons barely tempered, this brave band
Of Families refused both fear and flight.
Yet on, and on, and on the foemen rode.
No toll could seem to make them slow nor yield.
Again, again, again the fortress told
Of Bravery and Love borne as a Shield.
Come night and sun and witness how they stand
And grant some gladness for this time at hand."
Came knight and son, and witnessed where they stood
And grieved in sadness for the loss of "should." --
--Yet smile with joy, and tell of heroes bold
For bravery's not just borne by those of Olde."
(insert here by Terry Fenwick - for anyone who has ever lost a child, this poem
above will be one to cherish.)
In thanks and in joyful service, I remain
GregRobin Smith, Sir Brand
We have recently heard the Jolene and Rick have just had their third
child, a 10 pound baby boy they have named Patrick Joseph. Joy!