Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Wild Girl

Today, I witnessed a miracle.

People say that all the time, but I rarely ever believe in it. I think the word is over-used and under-appreciated. When everything is a miracle, then nothing can be miraculous. All the shine is faded.

But not today. Today, I witnessed a miracle. And her name is Sophia.

Ten summers ago, I helped start off a day camp for blind and visually impaired children, and Sophia was one of our first campers. At only about 8 or 9 years old, she was a little ragdoll of a thing, and she had three basic words -- "no", "yes" and a high-pitched screech to indicate either extreme excitement or extreme displeasure. Neither of them was especially delightful.

Sophia had no social skills. She had little gross motor control and even worse fine motor skill. To be in the dining hall, where plates and cups and silverware clanked and scraped together, and where children and teenagers talked in overwhelmingly loud voices, was sheer torture. At horseback, two people had to hold her steady in the saddle because she did not have the muscle strength to hold up her own head and upper torso which slumped over the reins. She looked like a little wild girl, born into nothingness and no one, but still managing to somehow have on clean clothes and bows in her hair.

Sophia's mother would not admit that anything, other than blindness, was at play in the mind of her child. And I got it, why heap more devastation onto an already devastating situation? But I couldn't understand that when she looked at her darling girl, she only saw what she wanted to see -- what she could bear to see. When her mother came to the closing ceremony, however, she could not deny what she saw: lots of other children, just as visually impaired as her own, who were speaking and moving and interacting all around Sophia. Literally. Around. Sophia. She slumped and fidgeted and barely lasted the hour without losing control. It was a visual reminder of what we, and probably her mother as well (deep down), knew already. Sophia was locked away, and no one seemed to be able to find the key.

But camp was the key. Or, at least, it was the hand digging around in the purse, searching for the key, brushing it with our fingertips and glimpsing it just enough to know that it was in there somewhere. I fully believe that. I will never accept anything other than that.

Sure, there were therapists and teachers and people who knew more than us helping her each and every day. And those people, especially her mother, deserve most of the credit. But I'm not sure that anyone, and I do mean anyone, cared more and cheered harder for a child than her camp counselors did. Every summer, more of Sophia came through. First, there were things like getting in the pool or eating with a knife and fork. Then came the mimicking and parroting of voices, sounds, and songs. Her mobility improved. Her language barriers began to crumble. And each time I saw her, she was a little more grown-up and sitting a little straighter in that saddle.

Four years ago, when I became the assistant director at my "normal kid" camp, my week with those wonderful day-campers and Sophia slipped away by the wayside. I could visit at the barn or even take a dip with them at the pool, but they stopped being my kids and became someone else's. And that included Sophia. Sometimes, I watch them amble down the road toward the pool or archery or canoeing with their canes and sighted guides and wheelchairs, and I am filled with both joy and regret because although I will always belong to them, they no longer belong to me. I barely know most of the campers anymore. None except Sophia. And, of all of them, the little girl who didn't speak, the wild girl who locked herself away, she was the least likely to remember how to heal my heart simply because she seemed to be the least likely to remember me at all.

But today, in the camp store, the little girl who didn't speak, spoke to me -- the me she hasn't known in four years. She smiled, yelled "Deana, Deana, Deana!" and giggled. Then she squealed the names of my friends, her other biggest fans, and my heart could not be contained. Not only had the wild girl remembered me, she could also place me with the other people who had loved her and adored her for so many summers. In her head and in her heart, we all live in the same place -- in the same place she keeps camp.

She squeezed my hands, put her palm to my cheek, answered my zillion questions, and made me realize all over again what is truly important in this world. How does that happen in the span of 5 short minutes in a crowded camp store? I will never, ever know, but I'm so glad that it can.

I think I could write about that moment for the rest of my life and never perfectly describe it to someone else. There aren't enough words to describe today because the only important words, the only words that mean anything at all, were the ones pouring from her mouth.


  1. D, reading your words reminds me of a girl, a friend, I knew years ago. She changed lives, made others laugh, and had the power toake one feel llike they were someone special, important. I think you also have that effect on Sophia. -your old friend, amber

  2. This makes me tear up. Reading Amber's comments also makes me tear up. Missing camp makes me tear up. Maybe I'm just teary.

  3. Ambular! I love you and miss you so much! Thanks for your wonderfully kind comments!

    Court -- yes, you are teary. But it's one of the things I appreciate most about you.