By the time Helen was eighteen months old, her eyes were a bright blue, and her hair was a gold red. By the time her eyes grew from sky-blue to sea-green, I was certain that she would be a rare beauty. However, Helen's personality and innate kindness would always outshine her physical beauty. The camera has always adored Helen, while her smile reflects an incredible love that clings to every fiber of her being.
By the time Helen was three years old, she had already developed an unusual logic that made perfect sense to her. Of course she must give away her favorite teddy bear to a child who needed it more than she did.
By the time she was in kindergarten, it seemed perfectly natural for her to love the unlovable, including the teacher who struck fear within the hearts of other students. Helen was quite certain that teacher was delighted to be with her, and by the second week of school, Helen, literally, had her eating from her grimy, little hands.
By second grade, Helen had become the champion of the weak, the hope of the hopeless, and she did it all with a selfless grace, that was nothing short of miraculous. By the time Helen was in high-school, it was pretty evident that we would be barraged with a house full of teenagers of every shape, creed, and ethnicity. I still have the pictures from one of Helen's birthday parties. There is the boy who needed to check in with his parole officer, before the cake was cut, and the girl, who couldn't drink iced-tea, because of her religion. Then there's the boy whose parents had escaped from Vietnam when he was a baby, and the girl whose father was a Taiwanese diplomat. It was an incredible feat of persuasion, just to round up all the kids for a one of a kind picture. It took three snap-shots to complete the picture. What an unforgettable sea of grinning faces peers out from those pictures, as though the United Nations had dropped off all its teenagers at our house, for a day of ice-cream and cake.
In the fall of her sophomore year, Helen and I found ourselves out shopping the malls for school clothes. I was doing some inventive arithmetic and brainstorming, trying to make our budget stretch into something that would delight and be affordable. At one point, I began to notice that a man and a girl were moving straight towards us. The man was dressed in work clothes, and he seemed to be encouraging a rather sad, overweight youngster closer to us. I could identify with the girl. I looked back upon my teen-age years as regrettable. These two seemed to be disagreeing, and were almost upon us.
Helen had just finished exchanging greetings with one of her countless squealing friends, and as she turned around, she came face to face with the reluctant teenager. Faster than the speed of light, Helen's eyes sparkled with delight and recognition. Her face broke into a brilliant smile, and she shrieked with joy!
"Cindy!!!" she squealed, as she threw her arms around the chubby girl's neck.
Suddenly, Cindy's face broke into a beautiful smile, and she squealed right back at Helen. Then they both did this hand-holding dance, while grinning and shrieking with delight.
Cindy was transformed from a rather sad, "just-like-I-was" kid, into the vivacious young girl she truly was meant to be. Cindy and Helen chattered away, totally oblivious to Cindy's father and I, as we stood amazed. Who was this unconsciously, generous, loving daughter of mine? How had God graced my life with something so bright and beautiful? How different my life might have been had there been a Helen to accept and love me as a teenager. When I turned back to Cindy's father, I saw his face transformed from frustration and sadness, to one of joy.
Cindy had seen Helen, he confided, long before Helen spotted her. She had identified Helen as "one of the popular girls." As Cindy's father encouraged her to speak to Helen, Cindy refused. Why would a somebody, she reasoned, want to talk to a nothing? Cindy's father had felt helpless to make his daughter believe how precious she truly was. Helen, in one unpretentious act, had given Cindy a priceless gift of unconditional friendship and self-esteem.
Cindy's Dad's eyes shone with pride and gratitude, but no more than my gratitude for Helen. I learned a great lesson that day. I learned that true friendship does not measure another with criticism, because the worth of a soul is not in the eye. It's in the heart.
Contributed by Debbie Laswell