Once upon a time (1970 to be exact) in a children's home in England, run by an order of nuns called 'The Poor Sisters Of Nazareth'... there lived a very 'special' little girl.
She was a tiny little dot, who had short cropped hair, and the bluest of blue eyes.
Her beauty (often overlooked) was breathtaking!
Like all children, the child had needs; the need to be kept fed and safe if she were to survive, and the need of attention, love, and compassion if she were to thrive, but (as mentioned before) she was a 'special' little girl, and as such her needs far outweighed those of the other children who lived at the orphanage.
At five years old (such as she was) she was unable to feed herself, she couldn't walk, she couldn't talk, her understanding of the world around her was extremely limited... and her behaviour would have tried the patience of a saint (or nun, as the case may be!).
The child had 'special' needs. She needed 'special' care.
And so it was, that the Nuns (in order to best manage their 'special' little charge), had devised an extraordinary care plan.
The child was fed on 'special' food - wickedly small portions of Librium laced cereal!
She was given a 'special' bed... a
cot cage on the nursery floor, away from children her own age, which was tied to the wall with rope... to keep her safe contained!
And, she was given her own 'special'
play room prison - The pram storage room, which contained, well, prams!
There were no toys in the pram room for the little girl to play with, no cushions for her to snuggle into when she
napped fell into an exhausted (scream worn) sleep - no padding to protect her when out of fear, abandonment, desperation, she smashed her head against the floor... over and over again!
There were no
hearers of responders to her screams, no wipes for her tear stained (often blood stained) cheeks, no cuddles for calm.... no attention - no love - no compassion.
If she wasn't trapped in a cot or squeezed into a high chair, she was
allowed to forced to use her 'special' room (unattended) for most of the day.
Her only companion - the frightened little girl in the mirror!
She was placed into Nazareth house children's home when she was six weeks old.
In my minds eye
The room is just as I imagined it to be; empty, aside from a row of old fashioned prams and a long mirror on the wall. The main door to the room is closed. The doors to the veranda are locked.
The child is sat with her back to me in front of the mirror; head down, torso slumped, and she is crying... body-wracking-sobs.
Another lonely day; voiceless, trapped, afraid. Hopelessness surrounds her.
She lifts her head, and (through the rain) looks despairingly at her mirrored self; the expression in the eyes reflected back at her is one of pleading... the child is in such pain.
There are no words for the emotion that almost explodes from my heart. It hurts to look, and just for a moment, I turn away.
I want to reach out and touch her; lift her onto my lap, cuddle her calm and tell her I love her.
I want to take wipes from my bag; wipe the blood from her forehead and the tears from her cheeks.
I want to hold her to me, stroke her hair, kiss her perfect little face and tickle her into giggles.
I sit down next to her, and imagining that she can see/hear me as I can her, I say, "It's okay darling... everything's gonna be okay... compassion is on her way.
She'll be here soon - she'll be your voice, and one day (though she doesn't yet know it herself) she'll be your mum.
She will fight for you, care for you, love you... and she'll be with you always."
Just before I opened my eyes (and headed back to my laptop) the child shuffled forward, and (still gulping down sobs) she reached out toward the mirror, lifted her gaze above and to the right of her reflection, and smiled... I smiled back.
Michelle Daly was just under 17 years old when, after taking on the role of housemother at Nazareth house children's home in Bristol, England, she first met Marie. Marie had just turned 5.
On that first meeting Marie was in a cot on the nursery floor which was tied to a pipe with rope. She was incredibly thin, of pale complexion, and had a large lump on her forehead. Michelle was told that the child screamed for hours on end and bashed her head on the floor or against the side of her cot.
"I looked at the child's pale face; her eyes were like glass. I thought how strange it was that we stood so close and she didn't reach out to be picked up, as though she was used to being looked at, but not touched" ~ Michelle Daly
The following day Michelle was horrified to learn that not only was Marie dosed up on Librium three times a day (to keep her calm) but also that she was locked in a storage room (and left there alone) for hours on end each day (to keep her out of the way). Staff couldn't possibly be expected to watch over such a challenging child and get the floors shining (priorities! o_O), and the nuns couldn't abide the way Marie (who was unable to walk) dragged her feet over their beautiful polished floors.
Marie was placed on the floor in the pram store room, the door was closed on her and she was left there alone for hours.
Her screams could be heard all over the house, until she either exhausted herself or knocked herself unconscious! She was bought out at meal times and fed a small potion of Librium laced cereal, then returned to the pram room or put in her cot.
Michelle couldn't bear it; she soon found ways to sneak Marie out of the store room and very quickly formed a strong bond with 'her little friend'.
"Come on!" I said, picking her up, "You'll get me shot!" I ran down the stairs with her. She laughed; glad to be rescued. I sat her on the table in the empty Laundry basket while I emptied the drier. For a bit of fun I put the hot nappies over her and she laughed again; she loved to get the attention. I turned my back on her to fill the washing machine, and when I looked around again she was fast asleep; her little face still wet from crying." ~ Michelle Daly
Toward the end of 1970 Nazareth house was condemned and the home office closed it down. Marie was given a bed in a hospital in Taunton for the mentally handicapped; 17 year old Michelle followed her, taking a job in the same hospital and visiting her little friend whenever she could.
"Working in the hospital was like stepping into another world; a world where human beings with over-whelming qualities were classed as sub-normal" ~ Michelle Daly
Within a few months Michelle knew she couldn't continue working at the hospital. She also knew she couldn't leave Marie behind. She was getting out, and she was getting Marie out too!
To cut a very long story, a lot of opposition, and much heartache short; Michelle traced Marie's birth mother who agreed to sign over legal guardianship papers, and (eventually) Michelle was able to take Marie home.
Michelle was just 19 years old when she took Marie (who was eight by this time) home. Nineteen! A bit of a lass, with her whole life ahead of her, and she chose to take Marie along for the ride.
It's been one hell of a ride hasn't it 'M'?! (At this point Michelle is nodding :O))
Ask me to define compassion... and I'll answer 'Michelle'.
Marie is 50 years old now, a year older than me. I'll avoid a virtual slap by leaving you, Dear reader, to work Michelle's age out for yourself.
Marie has not always found life easy... but she has lived!
She is still profoundly disabled, but there are things she can do; is encouraged to do. She especially loves playing with her building blocks and colouring books.
She still needs full time care, and she still struggles (terribly so) on the rare occasions that she has to go in to respite. These occasions aside; she is happy.
She still has extremely limited speech and understanding, but she understands love... and my word is she loved!
Thank you for allowing me to share
God bless you, and all those you love
If you'd like to read more about Michelle and Marie's life together you can find her book here
Follow her blog here >> http://michelledaly.blogspot.co.uk/
And find her on Twitter here >> @michelledalyliv
1000 Voices for Compassion is such a beautiful movement.... there have been so many fabulous contributions (from all over the world). I would encourage you to check them out if you get a chance.
You can do that by following @1000speak #1000speak on Twitter, or by checking out the FaceBook page here