For the past several days I have been contemplating the power of words.
As a budding English major, an avid reader, and someone who likes to write a lot (yes, I know I write long posts - I can't seem to help myself. Why use 20 words when 200 will do just as well?), this is a no-brainer. Important words like "I do" immediately come to mind as life changers. The words we choose and the tone we use when discussing "delicate" things with our spouses can change the entire tone of our marriage. I love to read certain authors (J. R. R. Tolkien and Pat Conroy are two that come to mind) as much for the way they use their words as for the subject matter itself. Words have the power to make us laugh or cry, sometimes within the same sentence.
Last weekend I was asked by an old friend to write her a letter of support; something I am more than happy to do, and in fact have done for her in the past. The problem is, I am having a terrible time trying to decide just what to write that will have the affect needed. For the first time ever, I seem to be at a loss for words.
Years and years ago I had hired "P" as Savannah's daycare provider, the fifth she had had in her first 2 years of life due mostly in part to job changes, both on my part and that of the other providers, and at least one provider that neither of us (nor most of the other kids in her charge) cared for. In desperation after learning that this most recent provider was cutting back her hours, I called an ad in the paper that was advertising an open slot in her home-run daycare. I took Savannah with me and went to check it out. Her home was a cute little place I had driven past daily on the route I take to work and had always thought had "personality."
P, a single mom with four kids of her own, was one of those people that you instantly felt like you'd known all your life and could talk to about anything. I sat and visited with her for about an hour after I'd toured the daycare and asked all my "protective mommy" questions. The most telling moment was when Savannah, who was notoriously bashful at that age, bypassed me, held out a book to her, and promptly climbed in her lap to be read to. There was no question that this was the place!
For the next 2 1/2 years, this was where she went, day in and day out, and there was never a problem. She never cried when it was time to get ready to go there as she had done with the previous one, and oftentimes when I'd go to pick her up she would beg to stay for "five more minutes." Savannah flourished in P's home, and this was where she learned to write most of her letters and where she found her first BFF in one of the other little girls. For myself, I also loved it there. As I was usually one of the last parents of the day to pick up my child, we developed a habit of visiting each night and really became good friends.
Two years later, just a few months before Savannah was to start Kindergarten, P remarried and moved to a different city, and I once again had to find a new daycare provider. Even though this person came highly recommended and said all the right things when I went to interview her, it just wasn't the same. We made do throughout her kindergarten year, but we were both relieved when she entered first grade and no longer needed daycare. Anyway, not long after P moved, we lost touch with each other, and I've wondered often over the years how she was doing.
And then last weekend she called. Turns out that she had moved to another state where she's been for the last couple of years, once again doing daycare out of her home. Crying, she told me the rest of the story. Apparently, a few months ago a little 18-month-old girl in her care fell and hit her head hard against the base of the couch. An ambulance was called and she was rushed to the hospital where she later died during surgery.
I can only imagine the pain this has caused, especially for someone like P who has such a true love and joy for working with little kids. But then she told me the shocker: Three doctors did an autopsy. The first two have gone on record as saying that it was an accident, but the third has taken the position that it was abuse and that it could only have happened during the time that P was watching her. Anyone who knows her knows that this is the height of absurdity! I honestly have never seen anyone (completely including myself here) that was more patient and gentle with kids than she.
The letter she needs me to write is to be sent as a character reference to the prosecuting attorney who is trying her for manslaughter. I readily agreed to do the letter, but never before in my life have I felt so much pressure to "get it right." How do you convey in mere words what someone has meant to you and your family? How do you tell someone who you know is reading your words with jaded eyes how much trust you have in the person they're looking at as a villain? How do you console someone who has had the worst thing they can imagine happen, only to be accused of causing that pain?
I have started and restarted the letter a half-dozen times, but I feel so totally out of my realm. Please keep justice for P in your prayers, pray for her children who need their mom, especially right now, and of course for the family dealing with the loss of their daughter...
February 14, 2009