How I found out every life has meaning


by Barbara A. Topolosky

I was trained as a teacher, and occasionally did private tutoring jobs after school. I got an unusual request from a school system. The supervisor wanted me to tutor a severely mentally and physically disabled little girl. I informed her that I wasn’t trained in this area, but she told me it didn’t matter―they were just looking for someone with a teaching certificate to fill the position.

I went over to the house to check it out. I really wasn’t prepared for what I found there. There was an 8-year-old child, Annie, wearing diapers, and a bib because she slobbered. She also had a feeding tube― something I’d never seen before. She couldn’t walk, but navigated around the room on her hands, dragging her feet behind her.  She couldn’t talk either, and made no sounds at all. It wasn’t something I was used to seeing, and it startled me, just a little.

The foster-mother was quite upset when I told her I didn’t specialize in this type of thing, but I guess she figured out she’d take what she could get. I wasn’t the first person who had tried to work with her. I’m sure I’m not the last.

I’d like to say we hit it off as best friends, but that wouldn’t be the truth. There was always some kind of tension between us. I think she wanted someone who could deliver a miracle. She quickly realized it wasn’t going to be me.

I did learn to love and appreciate little Annie for what she could do. She loved looking at books with big colorful pictures. She especially liked a book that showed photographs of children. She loved playing with some toy instruments she had, and we made our own little parade: drums, cymbals, and bells.

Her favorite activity was going outside and taking a walk in her wheelchair. If a child happened to be outside, and said, “hello”, she was in heaven.

One day to show her appreciation she put her little hand over mine. My heart melted.

In no time at all, I forgot about the slobbering, the crawling, and that she was 8 years old and wearing diapers. I saw her for what she was― a human being― one who could give and accept love. A person who enjoyed life.

After my job was over for the school year, I realized how much I missed her, and how much she’d meant to me. I hope that I meant something to her too.

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3 thoughts on “How I found out every life has meaning

  1. Yours is such a tender story. To Annie, you did make a difference and she will probably always remember you and some of the special moments you shared together.
    Very best,
    Lois W. Stern

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