Heroes Among Us Who Need Our Help
Five years ago, I had the joy, the gift of meeting a young lady who changed my life in many respects; her name is Theresa. She is a beautiful young lady, with blonde (if that’s how she feels in the current moment) curly hair, an impish smile, and a laugh that echoes against walls. Theresa was born with cerebral palsy, and live life she does.
Our youngest daughter was changing schools- Maria decided that the wonderful private school she attended was just too small. She wanted lots of kids to roam the corridors with, and at Centerville, well, one really can’t roam, one rides the tidal wave that is the hallway between classes. I decided that I needed to be available to take on the masses for Maria, (yeah, right- I just stood shaking in the class until the riot was over at 3:15) and started assisting Theresa her junior year. The first project we worked on was in educating ourselves on the latest updated material on cerebral palsy. It was very real, very gritty to be reading the limitations pronounced within the subtexts of our reading, but all the way through the “no you can’t” columns was Theresa smiling and saying, “yes I can.”
Theresa told me that she was going to walk to get her diploma. This was early in her junior year. We read through assignments, laughed through moments, and bonded over the year. There never seemed to be a time where I didn’t know Theresa, and know her well.
Theresa’s senior year, she very appropriately won the “Yes I Can” award given to the top 30 kids in the nation who have faced adversity and come out on top. I continued to be floored by her spirit, by her joy, by the beauty of what shone from a pair of eyes that have trouble focusing, that twinkle in their blur. Walking away from Theresa, bent in her wheelchair, one hand permanently gripped into itself, her body in its constant state- tipping to the right, a downward sag; well, the power of being Theresa and being in her wake is truly definitional.
Theresa’s “yes I can” is a million times louder than the grievances you hear in that clotted hallway full of active sounds of healthy, physically functioning teenagers.
Theresa asked me especially to be at her graduation. Well no duh. Even on the morning of, Theresa called me to make sure I would be there. I’ve always been angry with myself that I was not more insistent that my family come to this event with me. Graduations for my set rank right up there with afghan knitting circles, and I just couldn’t get them psyched about seeing 680 kids graduating. Granted, they all knew and loved Theresa. But she was the only one they really knew (besides Maria, but graduation was in the morning and she was 17- you do the math) was Theresa, and her last name started with an “S”.
So I was alone in my seat with about 10,000 people in the Nutter Center when the class of 2007 was heralded into their seats. You couldn’t see much- just lots of gold and black. Kid after kid marched up to grab their diploma- swinging tassels and hair as they bobbed their way across the stage. Things slowed down a lot when they got to the “S”’s. I wasn’t sure what I was looking at, but by the time I did, the air was still and the stadium hushed in velvet.
A sea of kids parted, very very slowly, as Theresa, in her gold finery, put one foot gingerly in front of the other. She was held in a metal contraption, giving her support, but you didn’t really see that. You saw the look of focus, you saw the intent of making that walkway, and you saw the honest to God pride that she made every footfall happen just so. It took ten minutes for Theresa to walk across that stage. What started with a velvet whisper became a manic cheer, one that shook the seats as each and every single person there stood to applaud the strength, the nobility of that moment; not one person at that graduation will ever forget Theresa walking across that stage to get her diploma. I’m honestly crying reliving that majestic miracle.
Then Theresa went home. Her mother and father divorced, and Theresa stayed in her back bedroom hunched over her computer. Theresa’s mom has worked for years trying to make life better for Theresa- but once you hit a certain age, and Theresa has, the government only gives so much. Theresa’s chair is getting more threadbare every day. She can’t get new equipment that is now available; she doesn’t fit many of the regulations that are so stringently placed on those who need aide. It has been five years.
Two months ago, Theresa’s mom had a stroke, and Theresa was put in a group home. No one knows for how long; no one knows much of anything. But I do know this. There is a dear young lady named Theresa who needs our help. Can you look in your hearts and donate whatever you can to make a bit better for this dear young lady? I’d like to get Theresa a new wheelchair, new equipment, ongoing assistance, and a fresh and exciting outlook, as she had the first day I met her. Theresa is a hero amongst us; we need to honor that spirit, and celebrate her life. All donations, 100% of what is offered will go to her funding. From time to time special cases are brought to our attention that don’t necessarily fall under the services through FLOC, but need help and attention nonetheless. I have had the honor to work with many children who have special needs, whether they be physical, emotional or financial. It is a privilege to be able to provide support- and to highlight individual needs to our community who respond with great generosity. And so it is with Theresa.
It is rare that you meet someone who challenges your expectations of just how hard life can be, and redefines that by just how beautiful every day should be. Thank you for your support- I thank you, Theresa’s family thanks you, Theresa thanks you.