It’s the last day of vacation and we are heading home. Part of our adventure included a visit to a really popular theme park in the southeastern USA. This was the second time we had visited this park and both times we have observed many groups of young people travelling together on a tour. We suspect that they teams from far away places perhaps visiting the area for a competition.

One group – looking and acting like cheerleaders – crossed our path. I noticed one girl because she stood out like a round peg in a square hole. I don’t mean to stereotype cheerleaders but they all seemed to look alike – body type, hair, even their faces. Well, this girl just didn’t fit. She was facially disadvantaged, taller and skinnier than the others, and her hair was a thick, unstyled, mop. Please don’t read that as I’m being judgmental about her or even that I’m making a comment about beauty. She just didn’t look like all the others. What’s more, she also didn’t walk like the others – they tended to clump together; she walked alone.

As we were leaving, I saw their group again sitting by the exit and I was hit in the heart. From my perspective, I saw a group of girls in a circle – chatting, laughing, etc. all but the odd one I had seen before. She was sitting off to the side, all by herself, legs pulled up like a shield, and she was watching the other girls in her group with a look that seemed a mix of disdain and longing, sadness and pain.  Now, it could be she was just fine; maybe I read too much into this brief glimpse. But I believe if you were there and saw her you would agree with me.

I wondered what tapes were playing in her head. What was she telling herself (again?) I wondered what this experience was doing to her heart. I agonized because I wanted to say something, do anything, that would communicate the truth to her – you are a worthwhile person, you are greatly loved, you are not alone, you are valuable, this is but a stupid moment in time that doesn’t have to define you.  Being a stranger who speaks a different language and a middle-aged man I also had a picture of freaking her and the whole group out. I did nothing and just kept on walking.

And so, she haunts me.