Her skin was the color of rich, hot chocolate and her brown eyes twinkled with intelligence and humor. Her name was Michelle and she spent her days in a purple wheelchair because she had been born with Cerebral Palsy. She rolled into my classroom - and my heart - when she was just three years old. Her courage was an inspiration to me and her spirit touched my heart.
Michelle and her mother once gave me a figurine of a beautiful black child sitting in a wheelchair. I displayed the cherished gift on a shelf in my den at home. It always reminded me of the little girl I loved so much.
When Michelle was seven, she was to undergo open-heart surgery for the third time. The night before surgery, I sat in the chair beside her bed and held her hand.
"I'm tired, Bicki," she said weakly.
"Why don't you close your eyes and try to get some sleep?"
"No, not sleepy. Tired."
I thought of the tiny, imperfect heart that had to work so hard, the grand mal seizures, terrible headaches and tight, spastic muscles that made her every move difficult and painful. I was heart-broken at the wisdom of the little soul who understood the difference between sleepy and tired at such a young age.
"Will I go to Heaven soon?"
I placed my hand on her forehead, "I don't know, that's up to God."
She glanced at the stars through the window of her room. "How will I get all the way up there? An airplane?"
"No, God will send a special angel to show you the way. You won't have to take your wheelchair or your leg braces or any of your medicine because you won't need any of that in Heaven. You'll be able to run and play just like your brother."
Her eyes filled with hope. "Do you think I could fly a kite?"
I swallowed a tear and smiled, "I'm sure if you ask God for a kite, he would find one for you."
"Oh, I hope so Bicki!"
It was very early in the morning while I was doing my prayer time when the figurine of Michelle, for no apparent reason, fell from my bookshelf to the floor. The impact of the fall separated the figure of the girl from the wheelchair. I was devastated and vowed to have it repaired. Later that same day, Michelle's mother called to tell me that her daughter's heart had simply stopped beating and she had peacefully slipped away in the early hours before dawn.
I have since thrown the ceramic wheelchair away and the little girl sits on the edge of the shelf with her legs dangling over the side. She's smiling toward the sky. I always think of Michelle on warm, windy days. I imagine her running through the clouds with a kite dancing above her!