A few days ago, I spoke at a fundraising luncheon for the La Canada Flintridge Orthopedic Guild. About three hundred or so people attended. It was lovely. Before my little ramblings, they played a short video that introduced our guests of honor. The video told the story of two young girls, both of them albinos, who lived in Tanzania. In some places in Africa, albinos are considered to have magical properties and they are hunted for their body parts.
Though the Guild raises money for a hospital here, they have branched out to help special kids worldwide. As they explained this in the video, they showed how these innocent young girls had lost their parents, and the younger had had her leg chopped off with a machete, and then left to bleed to death. Her older sister helped her, and she survived, but not with adequate medical care or a prothesis, (artificial limb) that worked for her.
So this incredible group flew them both over and provided the care and rehabilitation that they needed. Months of planning and giving and work went into this enterprise, I was awed by the commitment of this group. They have done so much and helped so many people.
Enter me, to their upscale ladies’ charity luncheon. After the short video, which left me in weeping, they brought the girls up. They are sixteen and fifteen, but so very much more childlike than the precocious mall-shopping teenagers most of us are familiar with. Very shyly, standing straight and proud on her new prothesis, the younger girl gave her thanks for all that had been done for her, and her older sister asked to sing a song she had written about their experience.
I don’t remember all the words, but the first verse was about realizing her mother was dead, and the refrain went, “And I cry and I cry, and I shout and I shout, I’m so tired of all the killing.” It was amazing, she sang it with no accompaniment and it was heartrendingly beautiful and moving. And then it was my turn to get up and speak.
The Chairman introduced me as I was still drying my eyes and trying to clear my throat. I took the mike, walked to the front of this group of charitable people, and said, “I’m supposed to follow that?”
I mean, come on! Haven’t you ever heard the old adage for actors, ‘never work with children or dogs’ because they steal the stage? How about two children who have overcome unbelievable odds just to survive? Who were still so kind and gentle and loving that I wanted to hug them and not stop. I had planned to talk about the courage of some of the families I work with in my charity, The Desi Geestman Foundation, but the stage was stolen by compassion, by innocence, by courage, and nothing I could have said about bravery and hardship would have meant more. That’s as it should be.
So I changed it up. I talked a bit about my book, about the character of Ellen and how in “Becoming Ellen” she realizes that it’s not enough to just come out of her shell and participate, she realizes that she must contribute to the whole to be whole, something all these people understood. I talked about how my mother, who was there, had raised me to be helpful and kind, and how I had passed those values on to my daughters who still accompany me to many of my charity’s events, including helping to decorate the wards for holidays and the annual PJ party, when they get to meet the kids. From this experience, they grew up knowing that people are people, no matter how they look or how ill they may be.
Then I moved on to discuss the changing landscape of my life now that my girls are growing up. I told them how my husband and I were discussing how integral the girls’ lives and education had been in our everyday lives. Now with one at college and the other one driving, I find myself with more time on my own. I told this crowd of beautifully dressed and graciously behaved men and women that one day, Joseph had looked at me and said, “What are we going to do when they’re gone baby?”
And I’d said, “We’re gonna’ make love in the kitchen.” I mean, I’ll miss the buggers on a day to day basis, sure, but there’s something to be said for getting some freedom back. I might even be able to write several hours uninterrupted...in a row! And I’ll have more time to help others, to do more for the community, to interact one on one with so many miraculous people in the world. They really are out there, and sometimes, they come to visit when you least expect it. Of all the roles we all play in our lives, there is always one that is the most basic and true.
No matter how many parts we take on, how many different jobs we find ourselves doing in our lives, it’s important not to forget the real one, to be you. For me that means lots of laughter, work, and hours of doing nothing other than searching for beauty. Sometimes I find it in the sky, sometimes in water, and very often, in the smile of a child who has suffered beyond belief, but who is not only happy, but grateful.
What more is there to say?
Love to you all.
Shari, November 1, 2015