Early in my professional career as a psychologist, I was impressed with a piece of research looking at how some children survive abuse and neglect and grow up into functioning, loving adults. There was one almost constant outstanding characteristic of “survivors.” They almost all were able to describe some adult who showed them a different world than the abusive one in which they were living almost 24/7.
Sometimes it was only a glimmer. But somehow it became a beacon that showed the child a way out of what so often must have felt like a black hole.
The significant adult varied. Often it was a grandparent, an aunt, an uncle. Sometimes it was a teacher, sometimes a neighbour, or a person like a Boy or Girl Scout leader. Sometimes these relationships lasted for years. But often they were fleeting. One would hardly imagine it was enough time to make any difference at all.
I never lost my interest in the implications of this initial finding. The last piece of research I did before I retired was an exploration of teachers whom adults remembered as having changed their lives.
But until now I have never heard a first-hand story of an abused or neglected child who had clearly been deprived of parental love and care, and has somehow not only survived but is now helping others in their struggle to find hope and self-worth.
I can’t tell the story any better than she told it to me, and so I am quoting it verbatim. The blog written by this survivor is at http://thesolaceofloweredexpectations.wordpress.com/
Early on–this must have been sub-three years old–I remember my father’s parents not only tolerating but welcoming my presence, which was a novelty. My grandmother used to save old cereal boxes, cans, bottles and what not so that when I came over, I could make a pretend store under her kitchen table. I remember her smiling at that, and also walking me several blocks to the shoe repair shop where my grandfather worked so that he could open the cash register and let me take as many pennies as my little hand would hold, with which we would go buy chocolate malt balls on the way home. These small things were absolutely miraculous to me.
I sometimes stand in Westminster Cathedral in London looking at the memorials to the great and the good. And it is impossible to miss the achievements of today’s “celebrities.”
And yet how little we know about those who are truly the great and the good. This little girl was moved away from her grandparents by the time she was four. They must have felt that there was nothing they could do to help this child who was snatched from them for the rest of their lives. How could they possibly have known that 60 years later, that child would remember them as one of the most formative influences of her life?
How can we possibly know who the great and the good truly are? History rarely records those acts of kindness and love, perhaps of courage and tenacity, that may have changed the world.