Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Teacher (10/26/06)
TITLE: Maddie’s Delight: The Secret Life of the Girl Next Door
By April Bailey
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With hands twisting up in a mockery of play, the little girl sat paralyzed by disease, frozen in a slice of life unknown to the rest of us. Her mother talked to her and laughed sweetly, as if hearing the child’s voice. But there had been no response from Maddie, not in her manner, not in her eyes. Not once in my viewing did she acknowledge her mother’s presence—a stroke of the hair, a one-sided embrace. Not once. But each weekend, the woman brought her daughter into the yard, out into the sunshine. Locked in her unknown world, Maddie seemed completely unaware of her surroundings, and I wondered why God would allow a person to be like that … so helpless, so vulnerable, so pathetic.
Fascinated perhaps by the spiritual quandary of the situation, I continued my observation, studying that little girl’s face and movements with more brain power than I’d utilized all year in school. My concentration paid off one Saturday afternoon. Maddie had just been wheeled onto a sunny patch of lawn.
“Oh, look, Maddie!” her mother squealed. “A butterfly!”
I saw the thing, flitting about their heads. And then, staring in disbelief, I noticed Maddie as she sat a little straighter, smiled a definite smile and loosed a giggle to the air. I jumped to my feet and blinked wildly. She responded to a butterfly?
Chasing it with my eyes and refocusing, I noticed the insect’s adornment—the most brilliant of blues. Almost shimmering. Stunning. And after the dance, Maddie’s delight landed on her outstretched hand. While her mother retreated to the porch and a novel, Maddie entertained other friends. A falling leaf, dressed in gold, held court in the breeze before resting on her lap. Cool droplets from my dad’s sprinkler rode the wind to anoint her cheek. Each time, she reveled ever so slightly.
Weekend after weekend I saw Maddie interact with the details of God. She found great pleasure in the miniscule, the simple, while able-bodied me moped on the porch like a pile of mud. Maddie lived a life without words, in silent, joyous conversation with Creation. Hers was not a life that held the promise of school, work, marriage, parenthood or old age. Relationships for Maddie were of a different sort. Hers was a secret life of rendezvous with butterflies and kisses from amber leaves.
I didn’t see Maddie again after that winter. But in the garden, near her favorite spot in the yard, stood a small wooden cross, with her name painted down the front. Affixed to the top … a beautiful blue butterfly.
Because of Maddie, I watch butterflies now. And amber leaves. And perfect snowflakes. I see how the earth cries out in color and majesty in praise of the Father, and I rejoice with these displays as Maddie did. She taught me to appreciate the simple things God made, the things we tend to take for granted, the things we tend to ignore. A silent, paralyzed little girl showed me a secret life too often overlooked by busy, vigorous people.
It was a valuable lesson from a lowly, invisible girl. Maddie. What better teacher?
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