Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Her Bright Smile Haunts Me Still

She was one of hundreds in the room, a tiny girl with wispy blond hair and blue eyes that seemed enormous in her little face. She was bone-thin, and her delicate skull structure was visible under her pale skin. She was in a wheelchair, her body twisted in a way that made it clear the chair was her only means of mobility.

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. 


Jai Joshi said...

Such a beautiful post, Sue! This little girl is going to haunt me too, now.


Mary said...

That's a wonderful observation, Sue. I recall there were some special needs children at the 3 Rivers Festival when I was telling, and I was glad their day camp had brought them. They looked like they were enjoying themselves, too.

Granny Sue said...

I am always humbled by the impact we can have on listeners. This little one proved again to me that sometimes we may just don't know what our words can mean. Mary, I think the special needs children can be the best of audiences. They have no inhibitions about being "cool"--they just jump right into the magic.

Tipper said...

Moments like you had observing the little girl-are some of the bright spots in life-and I think they can always teach us something about ourselves and others too. GREAT POST. Of course you know-I love the old song : )

Twisted Fencepost said...

My neighbor has a child just like you described. He cannot get up, run and play like the other kids, but he loves to listen to them. In his mind he is playing along, you can hear it in the shrieks of happiness you hear when someone calls out "Ready or not, here I come".
Great post, Granny Sue!!

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