Thursday, October 8, 2009

Long After We Are Gone

I’m a people person. I really like people (most of them, anyway). I think they are fascinating and can always teach me something. I often wonder what I can learn from each person who crosses my path.

So it comes as no surprise that I get a lot of energy from speaking engagements and book signings. I just returned from giving the keynote address at the Indiana State Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Conference. I’ve met hundreds of CASAs across the country and they never fail to amaze me with the passion, dedication, and perseverance they bring to their volunteer work. I always say CASAs are among my favorite people. I found the Indiana CASAs to be no different.

Immediately following my keynote address I started autographing books. The line was long and I was trying to move people through while also staying present and thanking each person. As I looked up to greet and thank the woman in front of me, she leaned over the table a little, as if she was about to tell me something important. I listened.

“I’m 70 years old and I am a CASA. I lived in foster care from the time I was six years old until I was grown.” She paused and drew a deep breath. “Back in those days, I saw a caseworker once a year when she would bring me a box of old clothes and tell me that it would have to last until she returned again.” I noticed tears forming in her eyes behind thick glasses, her hand on the table between us, steadying her weight as she spoke. She continued.

“Things are different now. Caseworkers and people visit a lot more.”

I’m not sure what I said in return. I could tell you I said something brilliant, but who knows? I did squeeze her hand and thank her for volunteering. And she moved on.

If I hadn’t had a long line of people waiting behind her, I would have loved to ask her what it was like being a foster child in the 1940s and 1950s. I wonder what she remembers, and if the memories are good or bad?

What I took away from our brief encounter was a reminder that childhood memories stay with us for decades, long after we become adults and make our way in the world.

It is powerful to know that we can make a lasting impact on a child for years if we choose to get involved and work to make a difference. How wonderful to realize that one act of kindness just might be seared into memory and recalled at a much later time, long after we are gone.

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