Yesterday, I wrote how one hour can change your life. Sometimes less than an hour can.
When our daughter was just 15 months old, we moved from Germany, where my husband had a two-year professorship, to Iowa to live in a Quaker intentional learning community, a safe place for our family.
We crossed the Atlantic Ocean to return to the United States, a land of great promise for our child who was born with an extra chromosome. In many regards, Germany had been great for our family. Ben and I are both fluent German speakers and it is Ellen’s second language. She had a few wonderful pediatricians, including one who told us quite earnestly that were it not for Ellen’s extra chromosome, she would fly too high and be an overachiever! I’m still not quite sure what to make of that statement, but the doctor meant well.
Others in Germany did also, but a few did not. Ellen was a baby, a gorgeous, alert, healthy baby, but many acquaintances and strangers told us she would never go to a regular school let alone college. One family we visited early on said that if we enrolled Ellen in Kindergarten and took her there without disclosing she had an extra chromosome, we would be sent packing.
My most horrifying encounter was with a mother in our baby group who in front of everyone asked me when we would have Ellen sterilized. In that moment I left the baby group, never spoke to the woman again, and told my husband we needed to make plans to return to the United States. We are still in touch with good friends in Germany, but it was not the land of opportunity for our daughter.
So with one of Ellen’s fathers — me — terrified of being in an airplane for more than an hour, we crossed on the Queen Mary and I was in heaven. I could live on a boat, any boat. For our family, it was cheaper than flying, a real bonus! Our journey took us by train from Bonn to Holland to board a small ship to cross the English Channel, another train to the Queen Mary to land in New York City.
Our family was very popular to my surprise. Ellen had her first haircut and the personnel could not stop gushing about her. Other passengers, including Theresa Rosen, would come up to us and say, “She’s stunning. You are so lucky.”
On the third day of the seven-day trip, we were quietly sitting in a lounge area. A woman came up to us. With slurred speech she asked what was wrong with Ellen. I calmly replied, “Nothing.” She then started to shout, “You folks seem like you may be from the country. Get her to a real city doctor.” Ben grabbed Ellen and talked to me in German. “She’s drunk,” my husband said. “Let’s get away.” But the woman would not let us. “I’m serious,” she yelled. “Don’t wait too long.”
I should not have been shaken, but I was. Later, we had our family picture taken on the ship. I was in the gallery looking at our pictures when Theresa came up to me, smiled, and said, “What a beautiful family you have. Do you remember me? I met your daughter earlier today. You know, she’s going to accomplish great things in her life.”
Of course I started to cry. I don’t cry often, but I’m in touch with my tears!
“What’s the matter?” asked Theresa. I mentioned what had happened earlier in the day with the drunken passenger.
“Don’t take one word of what she said to heart,” said Theresa. “I know that’s easy for me to say, but I’m a pediatric nurse trained at Johns Hopkins. I’ve worked with hundred of children and babies. Ellen is incredible. She will move mountains. You know that. If you’re ever in doubt, call me.” Theresa gave me her card. In that moment my world changed forever.
Faith can move mountains. In the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, a person with whom I spoke for all of 10 minutes gave me the greatest gift a parent can receive: hope.