It's enough to make a mama throw up her hands and retreat back to the woods with T. But I soldiered on, feeling a bit weighted by all my obligations. Then, in the aisle just ahead of me, I watched a mother push her son in his wheelchair. She paused to place an item in her bag, to kiss her boy on his forehead and smile into his eyes. As she pushed past me, I smiled at her and her son.
And then I stopped in the aisle, thrust back to memories of the 7th grade and a girl named Kathleen. That year, my family moved. The family who lived next door to us had a daughter who was my age. We were friends, Kathleen and I, though not in the traditional sense that 7th grade girls are friends. But I can honestly say of her that she taught me more about life and being grateful for blessings large and small than anyone else I have known.
Kathleen was profoundly disabled, confined to a wheelchair, not close to fully grown (nor would she ever be), and unable to speak. She could communicate, mostly by the emotions on her face, sounds she could make, and her amazing, expressive eyes. The first day that I met her, I am not proud to admit that I was a bit taken aback by her appearance, which made some people want to ignore her. By the time that she died, her appearance and her differences weren't at all how I thought of Kathleen.
As our families became friends, I would sometimes help Kathleen's parents to look after her. I don't recall that I did very much significant. I do recall that the time I spent with her forever altered my sense of how we find meaning in our world, of how we add to the sum total of happiness that is present in our lives. Kathleen, for all her challenges and differences, made people happy. She was well-loved and she brought value to the world of those who knew her.
Kathleen died the year I was in the 8th grade. It was a death both expected and sudden, as the deaths of such children often can be. She had never spoken a word to me and yet I mourned her passing as one mourns a friend. Over the years, I have come to appreciate more and more the lessons that Kathleen taught me.
Chief among them is the realization that burdens are less burdensome when faced with an awareness of blessings large and small. Certainly, my 13 year old son is sometimes a handful, but he's healthy and happy. Yes, I have tiresome meetings and extra obligations this week, but they are at a job I love. Chores are a pain but they are easy enough to complete with modern conveniences to help. Our house is safe and warm with food enough to eat.
We are blessed and I am lucky.