There is an image etched in my mind of a pair of red Mary Janes with missing buckles. The first time I saw them was in July of 1997 in Samara, Russia. I was exhausted, jet lagged and overwhelmed, but the red Mary Janes caught my attention and would forever change my life.
It was late in the evening. My husband and I were seated in a small room surrounded by people we had only met a few hours earlier. Talk swirled all around, as I sat there numb and wishing I was home. It was day one of a much-anticipated trip and here I was wishing it was over. The day had not gone at all according to plan, at least my plan. It seemed there was a new twist at every turn. I just kept thinking how it was not supposed to be this way, how I had worked so diligently for months in preparation of this trip and now it was all falling apart. I felt a bit like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz saying over and over in my head, “there’s no place like home” and wishing more than anything I would open my eyes and be back in my own bed. I was snapped out of my comatose like state when the red Mary Janes with no buckles appeared.
I was staring at the floor when I first noticed the shoes. I was struck by how scuffed and faded they were, but mostly by the fact that they had no buckles. My eyes slowly traveled up from the shoes and standing in front of me was a beautiful little girl. She was four years old, so small, with beautiful brown eyes and short brown hair. A large bow sat on top of her head and she was dressed in matching panties and a sleeveless top with tiny flowers. The red Mary Janes adorned her feet. We were introduced and I felt my spirits lift and my heart unburden. After a very short visit, we were allowed to accompany her back to her room. We said goodnight and headed back to our hotel for the evening.
The next day we returned and the little girl in the red Mary Janes reappeared. We greeted her with hugs and I offered her a toy I had brought along, which she willingly accepted. Later in the day, we were taken into a large room with mirrors covering one wall. One by one, children were brought in and dressed in new clothing. The little girl in the red Mary Janes walked in still dressed as she had been the night before. I was anxious, as I had no clothes for her. As he often does, God had placed an earth angel to be with me on this day. She graciously offered new clothing, shoes and a book that played music for us to give to the little girl. Once out of her red Mary Janes and dressed in her new clothes, the little girl looked at herself in the mirror and began to giggle and twirl in front of it. Throughout the afternoon, she clung to the music book, pushing the buttons over and over, smiling as the songs drifted through the room. Soon it was time to leave.
I took the little girl by the hand and we were led outside to a waiting van. I heard a chorus of voices calling to her in Russian. I turned toward the voices and saw a group of children around the little girl’s age, waving, smiling and repeating over and over, “Do svidaniya, Anya” (Goodbye, Anya). The little girl broke free from my grip and ran to the children. I followed close behind, as did our Russian coordinator. The children reached out their hands to touch the little girl. They all smiled and chatted excitedly. After a few moments, she handed the music book she had been clutching all day to one of the children. She grabbed my hand and spoke to the children one last time. As she spoke Russian and I did not, I had no idea what she had said to them. I turned to our coordinator and asked her to tell me. The coordinator smiled and translated. The little girl had told her friends, “Goodbye, I am leaving now and this is my mama”. Tears filled my eyes, spilling down my cheeks, as the little girl and I ran to the waiting van. Once inside, the little girl spoke again. The coordinator translated. The little girl had said, “I gave my book to the children. They are good children.” Again the tears came as I was so incredibly moved by her kindness and love for the other children. The van departed for the trip to the airport. In a few days we would be home.
The little girl in the red Mary Janes with no buckles became my daughter that day. It is hard to believe she is now 17 years old. She is a beautiful and talented young woman with a very bright future ahead of her. I wrote this so that she will know and understand that from the moment I saw those red Mary Janes with no buckles and the beautiful little girl wearing them how much she touched my heart; and that even during our most challenging moments how very much she was then and is now loved. It is with her permission and blessing that I share a small part of her story with you today.
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