This weekend, I had the privilege of watching my friends’ little girl in her spring dance recital. It was a long recital, with many acts before hers. I found myself fascinated with one of the older dancers, who was probably nearing graduation. I was stunned by the resemblance she held to one of my former youth group students; I couldn’t get over it. Yet I knew it wasn’t her; it couldn’t be her. She was a few years older than this girl and had none of the same opportunities. As I sat there comparing the two, a girl I knew and the girl dancing on the stage, I was overcome with sadness.
While I didn’t know the dancer, I did know that she had been afforded the opportunity to take a wide variety of dance classes for many years. She had someone in her life who believed in her dream, who paid for her classes, who got her where she needed to be on time. She had someone who invested in her costumes, her haircuts, her shoes…someone who invested in her desire to be the best dancer she could be.
The girl I knew wasn’t given the same opportunities. She lived on the fringe, battling personal demons from a young age. Her mom was peripherally involved in her life but could barely keep her own together; her father was nowhere to be found. When I met her, she was full of unexpressed rage and pain. She was cutting, drinking and doing who knows what else, beyond the handful of prescribed medications she took daily to keep her hanging onto this world by her fingernails. Child protective services was aware of her but for whatever reason, they chose not to remove her.
She ran with a rough crowd and didn’t come to youth group with any frequency. I did my best to remind her she was loved and cared for when I did see her, always approaching cautiously and gently, encouraging her to share some of her heart with me. She’d occasionally let her guard down with me for a moment before she’d realize what she’d done – and the gates would crash down again. My heart broke for her each time and it broke again this weekend as I watched her very image dance across the stage time and again. We’ve lost touch over the years and I so hope she has found her way. Either way, I hope that she remembers that out here in the world, someone still cares and still believes in her.