I watched her as she watched the storyteller on stage. I wondered, does she understand what he's saying? The storyteller sat down and began a story that required audience participation. He put his hands on his knees and I watched the little girl's hands move. Was she trying to imitate him? It was hard to tell. He raised his hands in the air, and her hands moved upwards too. He clapped; her hands came together and a small smile played around her mouth. She never took her eyes off the storyteller. She was listening; she was in the story with him just like all the other noisy, wiggling kids in the room.
The little girl reminded me again of something I have seen over and over as a storyteller: children who might not seem to be listening...are listening. Children who do not seem capable of understanding a story...understand. Their bodies might not be perfect; their minds might not have developed along with their age; their eyes might not be looking; their behavior might not be the same as other children. But they can join with all listeners in the story journey, and no handicap can stop them.
Her smile lingers in my mind, a ghost of a smile on a beautiful young face that has probably seen more pain than its share. She will haunt me when I am on stage, a little one whose hands came together in delight as she listened to a story.
She reminded me of this old song:
Her Bright Smile Haunts Me Still (W.T. Wrighton, J.E. Carpenter) It's been a year since last we met We may never meet again I have struggled to forget But the struggle was in vain. For her voice lives on the breeze Her spirit comes at will, In the midnight on the seas Her bright smile haunts me still. In the midnight on the seas Her bright smile haunts me still. I have sailed a falling sky And I've charted hazard's path I have seen the storm arise Like a giant in his wrath Every danger I have known That a reckless life can fill Though her presence is now flown Her bright smile haunts me still Though her presence is now flown Her bright smile haunts me still At the first sweet dawn of light When I gaze upon the deep, Her form still greets my sight While the stars their vils keep. When I close my aching eyes
Sweet dreams my memory fill And from sleep when I arise Her bright smile haunts me still. And from sleep when I arise Her bright smile haunts me still. From Traditional American Folksongs, Warner and Warner apr97; from the Traditional Music Library website.