Twelve Reasons to Believe: Taylor’s Secret Fan Club

By Laura Edwards

Taylor's secret fanThe following is ninth in a 12-post series. 

Because my little sister has a non-profit organization named for her, she’s more famous than most girls her age. A lot of people – from close friends and family to perfect strangers all over the world – send well wishes and bear hugs her way. She’s the star of a website and social media sites and this blog. She’s been featured in newspapers and magazines and television news stories.

She even has a secret fan club.

In 2006 – the same year we learned Taylor has Batten disease – Mom served on the board of the Council for Children’s Rights; she got to know the organization’s development assistant, a young woman about my age, and sponsored her for the Junior League of Charlotte.

Taylor breezed her way into this young woman’s heart. The two became fast friends, meeting for ice cream cones and puppy walks (the young woman helped Taylor get a Bichon Frise – a cottony ball of energy and love named Sunny to complement her own easygoing Bichon, Mason).

Soon, packages began to arrive in my parents’ mailbox. Addressed to Taylor, the envelopes identified the sender simply as “Taylor’s Secret Fan Club.” They contained silly glasses and mixed CDs and art supplies; “girly girl” stuff from Michael’s or the $1 section at Target.

About a year later, this young woman gained acceptance to law school at Northwestern University in Chicago. Taylor was happy for her friend but sad that she wouldn’t get to see her every week. She understood her friend’s decision, though, because she believes everyone should follow their dreams.

Not too long after Taylor said goodbye to her friend, she received another package from her secret fan club. It had a Chicago return address.

Taylor’s Secret Fan Club moved its headquarters a few more times over the next couple of years, but its president has never forgotten my little sister. And regardless of what the future holds, I’ll never forget the love she squeezed into all of those packages or the love she showered on Taylor – her special friend.

She gives me reason to believe.

Two Choices

By Laura Edwards

John and I went bowling with Taylor and my parents tonight. T is the undisputed Wii bowling champion around here, but I’d never seen her hold a six-pound ball and roll it at real-life pins. I’m not too shy to say here that she tied me tonight, fair and square. I led her for most of the night, but she drew even with a strike – a strike! in the 10th frame. Between turns, she chattered about two different excursions to the mall last night and today on a quest for a pink skirt at Justice. At one point, she described how a woman at the mall stumbled and fell, at which another shopper burst out laughing. On the side, my mom explained that the woman who fell was handicapped, and that though T had no way of knowing that, my mom had looked on incredulously at the woman who laughed at her. Compassion, it seems, is not a universal trait.

It does exist, however. My mom sent the story below, entitled “Two Choices,” to me recently; a good friend shared it with her. It is a story that would have been moving on its own but was even more touching for me because there have been many similar instances on Taylor’s behalf. Just as I’ll never forget those who have supported Taylor’s Tale, I’ll never forget those who put my little sister’s happiness first. My sister may have physical handicaps as a result of her disease, but her spirit is anything but weak. All those who have brought a smile to her face hold a place in my heart forever.

At a fundraising dinner for a school that serves children with learning disabilities, the father of one of the students delivered a speech that would never be forgotten by all who attended. After extolling the school and its dedicated staff, he offered a question: “When not interfered with by outside influences, everything nature does, is done with perfection. Yet my son, Shay, cannot learn things as other children do. He cannot understand things as other children do. Where is the natural order of things in my son?” The audience was stilled by the query.

The father continued, “I believe that when a child like Shay, who was mentally and physically disabled comes into the world, an opportunity to realize true human nature presents itself, and it comes in the way other people treat that child.” Then, he told the following story:
Shay and I had walked past a park where some boys Shay knew were playing baseball. Shay asked, ‘Do you think they’ll let me play?’ I knew that most of the boys would not want someone like Shay on their team, but as a father I also understood that if my son were allowed to play, it would give him a much-needed sense of belonging and some confidence to be accepted by others in spite of his handicaps. I approached one of the boys on the field and asked (not expecting much) if Shay could play. The boy looked around for guidance and said, ‘We’re losing by six runs and the game is in the eighth inning. I guess he can be on our team, and we’ll try to put him in to bat in the ninth inning.’
Shay struggled over to the team’s bench and, with a broad smile, put on a team shirt. I watched with a small tear in my eye and warmth in my heart. The boys saw my joy at my son being accepted. In the bottom of the eighth inning, Shay’s team scored a few runs but was still behind by three. In the top of the ninth inning, Shay put on a glove and played in the right field. Even though no hits came his way, he was obviously ecstatic just to be in the game and on the field, grinning from ear to ear as I waved to him from the stands. In the bottom of the ninth inning, Shay’s team scored again. Now, with two outs and the bases loaded, the potential winning run was on base, and Shay was scheduled to be next at bat. At this juncture, do they let Shay bat and give away their chance to win the game? Surprisingly, Shay was given the bat. Everyone knew that a hit was all but impossible, because Shay didn’t even know how to hold the bat properly, much less connect with the ball. However, as Shay stepped up to the plate, the pitcher, recognizing that the other team was putting winning aside for this moment in Shay’s life, moved in a few steps to lob the ball in softly so Shay could at least make contact.
The first pitch came, and Shay swung clumsily and missed. The pitcher again took a few steps forward to toss the ball softly towards Shay. As the pitch came in, Shay swung at the ball and hit a slow ground ball right back to the pitcher. The game would now be over. The pitcher picked up the soft grounder and could have easily thrown the ball to the first baseman. Shay would have been out, and that would have been the end of the game.
Instead, the pitcher threw the ball right over the first baseman’s head, out of reach for all of his teammates. Everyone from the stands and both teams started yelling, ‘Shay, run to first! Run to first!’ Never in his life had Shay ever run that far, but he made it to first base. He scampered down the baseline, wide-eyed and startled. Everyone yelled, ‘Run to second, run to second!’ Catching his breath, Shay awkwardly ran towards second, gleaming and struggling to make it to the base. By the time Shay rounded towards second base, the right fielder had the ball; the smallest guy on their team now had his first chance to be the hero for his team. He could have thrown the ball to the second baseman for the tag, but he understood the pitcher’s intentions, so he, too, intentionally threw the ball high and far over the third baseman’s head. Shay ran toward third base deliriously as the runners ahead of him circled the bases towards home. All were screaming, ‘Shay, Shay, Shay, all the way Shay!’ Shay reached third base because the opposing shortstop ran to help him by turning him in the direction of third base and shouted, ‘Run to third! Shay, run to third!’ As Shay rounded third, the boys from both teams and the spectators were on their feet screaming, ‘Shay, run home! Run home!’ Shay ran to home, stepped on the plate, and was cheered as the hero who hit the grand slam and won the game for his team.
“That day,” said the father softly with tears now rolling down his face, “the boys from both teams helped bring a piece of true love and humanity into this world. Shay didn’t make it to another summer. He died that winter, having never forgotten being the hero and making me so happy, and coming home and seeing his mother tearfully embrace her little hero of the day!”
We all can make a difference.
I am inspired by the acts of kindness – all great – that have been bestowed upon my little sister by her close friends and by perfect strangers. I have watched her friends – and children her age are often preoccupied with their own acceptance by their peers – go out of their way to make sure that Taylor feels included. I have seen a high school student devote hours of her own free time to ensure that T is able to be a part of Girls on the Run like her friends by staying after school to hold one end of a rope while T runs laps around the track. I have tried to count, over the last few years, the special packages that have arrived in the mail addressed to T, the sender identified simply as ‘Taylor’s Secret Fan Club.’ I have seen the time and love T’s vision teacher and her husband have put into creating games with special modifications so that my sister doesn’t have to feel lost just because she can’t identify the colors on a Twister mat or see the targets on a conventional corn hole game. I have seen people who are meeting T for the first time recognize that she is blind and immediately begin to communicate in such a way that she can grasp what they are saying without the aid of visual cues.
I have also observed people watching my little sister with disdain as she fumbles through an unfamiliar obstacle course of a room or if she has trouble articulating her words. Those people may believe that because Taylor is blind, she is also oblivious to these acts of ‘unkindness…’ or perhaps they do not think this way at all and instead just do not have any regard for her feelings.
The email that included the story above ended with this: So many seemingly trivial interactions between two people, such as the one Taylor encountered at the mall today, present us with a choice: Do we pass along a little spark of love and humanity, or do we ignore those opportunities and leave the world a little bit colder in the process?
A wise man once said every society is judged by how it treats its least fortunate.