Karen's body was so broken physically by the disease she was born with that she laid in her wheelchair. The only movement she had control over was in her two weak, crooked hands. She was able to feed herself if her family members placed a cupsized bowl in her hand with a child's spoon. Not only did she endure her lack of independence with grace and a smile but she chose not to complain while thanking everyone for meeting her every need. Karen didn't even complain that along with all the other things she contended with her tongue twitched all the time. That just seemed like a cruel joke to me.
Karen was 16 when we were in a high school math class together. She became my friend and encouraged me to pursue my dreams of being a special ed teacher. Her brain worked brilliantly and her wit and compassion surprised me. During the next eighteen months before her disease took her home to be with Jesus, she impacted my life with her sense of humor and positive outlook on life. Karen convinced me to work at a camp she went to in the summer for teens with physical disabilities. What a powerful experience and eye opener to the challenges these brave young people had. The thing that was the most impacting is how we, as a society, dismiss physically handicapped people. Somehow we believe that if their body is broken so is there mind. So many are locked in these bodies that don't work but have minds that are sharp and ignored.
Karen went to homecoming with Ron and me our senior year.That night before the dance she and I got ready together laughing as I did our make up and fancied up our hair. She looked beautiful and so happy as we twirled her wheelchair around the dance floor. It was one of the best nights of my life. I had no idea that in a few short weeks she would be gone. She told me that when I got to heaven it would be hard to recognize her. Her body would be restored and she would run up to me and throw her arms around me. I can't wait!
Karen still reminds me of all that I don't see. That I get busy in my own life and ignore those around me who somehow become invisible. There is a certain scent that I get a gentle whiff of now and then that reminds me of Karen. I have never been able to pinpoint what the smell is. That is really not the point. I don't know if it is Karen touching base or just something in the air but it always brings me back to her smile. Life is hard, harder for some than for others. How we embrace our path is what makes us bitter or inspiring. Karen still inspires me over forty years since she got her new and improved body and left this broken one behind. What a gift she has been in my life.