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She’s a beautiful 8 year-old girl with spark and energy. Look at her face and into her bright eyes for only a second and you can feel her keen sense of awareness. Megan is very smart, very strong and, like all kids her age, can be very stubborn.

Of all the delightful kids who come to Aqua-Tots for swim lessons each week, Megan is my favorite. The joy she expresses in the water is unbridled and genuine.

Beautiful. Smart. Strong. Stubborn. Expressive.

Megan is all of these.

Megan – with her Dad. (2006)

She’s also a prisoner. Trapped in her own body.

She can’t walk on her own. Nor can she talk. The best she can do is make noises. She relies on a wheelchair and a digital communicator to interface with the world around her.

According to her Dad and the medical team in California that saved her life at birth, Megan is a miracle kid. Severe complications during her delivery have left her with a form of cerebral palsy. The most hopeful prediction was that she would live her life in a vegetative state.

Her Dad says to me, “Megan knows exactly what’s going on around her. She sees the other kids her age and knows what she should be able to do. She wants to be running with them.” He says it with a brave face and an optimistic smile that can’t hide the pain he feels for his daughter.

When it’s time for Megan’s lesson, we look for each other. Not because she needs me. Because I need her. Her smiles make my week. When we see each other Megan always leans out of her chair, excited, arms open to give me a hug. I don’t know why. They say you can’t fool kids and dogs. I’d like to think it’s because she knows that I really love her.

Inevitably, it seems, she arrives for her lesson just after I’ve gotten off the phone with a parent who hasn’t gotten the memo that the world doesn’t revolve around them. In the world of customer service I make them feel as if it does and when I hang up the phone wonder if a reality check wouldn’t have been more honest than reinforcing their belief that they are the center of the universe.

One day I was kneeling in front of Megan in her wheelchair as she was waiting for her swim lesson to start. We were face to face but she was looking past me, over my shoulder to the gymnasts who were practicing their tumbling runs. A sprint, a handspring, launching themselves up and over, twisting and flying into the foam rubber pit.

She knows.

She knows that’s what she should be doing. I could see it in her expression. The sadness and the longing. The “why not me?” in her eyes.

Selfishly, I wanted to distract her from reality.

“Megan, it’s great to see you today! How are you?”

She brought her attention back to me with an extra large smile. She awkwardly tried to bring her hands together. With her thumbs and index fingers she made a triangle.

“Megan, you’re a lot smarter than I am. I don’t know sign language.”

She leaned forward and extended her hands toward my face, as if to make the sign more visible.

Her Dad said, “You asked her how she is.”

“So what’s she saying?”

“She’s telling you she’s perfect.”

I felt like someone dropped a Steinway on my chest.

Ask me how I am and my healthy, mobile, verbose body will give you a half-hearted and sometimes discontented, “I’m fine”.

Ask Megan how she is and she’ll tell you she’s perfect.

And she is.

She so is.

Perspective comes to us in many ways. The best way is when the life lesson takes us outside ourselves, far away from our selfish, self-absorbed lives. In 43 years I’ve received many doses of perspective. None more powerful or life-impacting than Megan’s sign.

We all have challenges. Megan’s challenges are off the chart. The difference between Megan and me is I can discuss my challenges. I can give voice to my complaints. I can whine and grumble about how I’ve been inconvenienced or hurt or slighted. I can get up and walk or run away from situations where I am angry or frustrated or overwhelmed.

In short, I have freedom to move through life fully ambulatory and fully vocal about every blessing I think I deserve but don’t have. And every injustice I have suffered but didn’t deserve. All the while oblivious that my whining and griping and walking away is made possible by a body… that works.

God must appalled by my chutzpah.

Megan, my friend, I owe you more than you will ever know. You are a continual source of inspiration and perspective for me. God will be pleased if I can someday attain the maturity of attitude you possess.

You come to Aqua-Tots each week for a lesson. Thanks for coming.

You’re a great teacher.

“O Lord, who lends me life, lend me a heart replete with thankfulness.” – William Shakespeare

Todd A. Thompson – Sept 6, 2006

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