My favorite quote comes from the novel Jonathan Livingston Seagull, by Richard Bach: "You don't love hatred or evil, of course. You have to practice, to see the good in everyone and then to help them see it in themselves." Since my middle school English teacher introduced me to this quote, I have lived by it. Every one has a purpose and a mission in life...everyone! In some cases a person's mission is easy to see, in others not so much. Every one is valuable.
While a student at Marywood University in Pennsylvania, earning my B.S, in special education I was sent to a residential school for severely and profoundly challenged people with multiple disabilities. My client was, Joanna. Joanna was seven years old. I was there, as I would be every night for a semester, to feed Joanna dinner. Sounds easy, right? Actually it was after I got the knack for it! The uniqueness of this situation was that Joanna was the size of an infant. She laid in a crib. She could not sit up or speak. She could not chew even though she had a mouth full of teeth. She drooled. She showed no outward emotion. Joanna was unable to acknowledge that I was there. Joanna ate pureed food. Every evening, I sat Joanna in her specially designed high chair that held her securely. I then fed her pureed food from a spoon. Joanna had a lot of difficulty swallowing so usually both she and I were covered in her food by the time she was finished. After she ate I cleaned her up. and placed her back in her crib. I of course always spoke to Joanna, and sang, and smiled. A smile after all, is the universal symbol for "I like you." I wanted Joanna to know just how important she is.
What struck me during all of my visits with Joanna was just how much she was loved. Hanging in her crib were letters and drawings from a younger sister. Drawings with red hearts and colorful flowers. Drawings of a Mom, Dad, and two sisters holding hands. New drawings and letters were hung every few days. Joanna had a family. A good family. A family that cared. Joanna's family lived several hours away, but never stopped thinking about her. I just knew how much this family valued this precious child. How much Joanna's Mom, Dad, and sister adored this little girl who was too fragile to live at home. It was impossible not to love Joanna, just being with her touched my life. Joanna added something very powerful to all of the lives of the people who knew her. I am grateful to Joanna for bringing out the good in me and I hope that during the semester I spent dinner time with her that her life was better as well.