Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Magical Melissa

Right now, I watch small specks of dust soar through rays of sunlight, linear beams, like knife blades cross the air in my tiny living room. Sunset not too far off…the approaching purple of Eastern night sky, like sheath on blade, signals approaching darkness.

I’ve had the opportunity to meet thousands of girls over the years and find myself
reflecting on their wonder, their light and their power. South Carolina, North Carolina, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan…I am still amazed by the pull Girls on the Run has on the people who are attracted to our program. The girls, their families, the coaches, the sponsors, the schools all seem to mysteriously emerge in the light of sunrise and find their way to the day's work we call Girls on the Run.

I could fill an entire book with the stories of the girls I have met. I am literally transformed by each one…gracefully pulled forward to a space I didn’t know existed inside myself. Mikayla lives life from her wheelchair. Brianna had heart surgery just weeks ago; Christy lost her mother to cancer and Nakia’s dad is in Iraq.

Kalamazoo is in Michigan and currently hosts one of our largest Girls on the Run councils in the nation. On May 21st, I'll be there again to see 2000 girls cross the finish line. Over 5000 people will fill the football stadium at Western Michigan University to cheer on the girls in our program. The amount of energy in the stadium is palpable…girls laughing, leaping and lapping up the support of this small mid-western community.

I recall this day a couple of years ago. I had the privilege to attend the event with many of our Girls on the Run International staff.

After most of the girls had finished, an impromptu line formed, girls wanting me to sign the backs of their shirts. What a privilege for me to share, with them, this precious dot on the timeline of their lives (and mine.)

“What’s your name,” I ask a young woman, probably 11 years old or so.

“I’m Emily.”

“Good job Emily! That must mean you are EXTRAORDINARY EMILY.” I sign that on the back of her shirt and add a quick “Molly B.” We embrace each other and off she goes.

“What’s your name,” I ask again.

“I’m Amber.”

“Way to go Amber! That must mean you are AWESOME AMBER.” The process continues for several minutes. My heart is filling up to overflowing with each and every exchange.

And then I come to…her.

“What’s your name?”

Standing before me is a delightful mess. Her shoulder-length, light brown hair is completely soaked. She stands no taller than my waist--thin little legs with knobby knees, ribs apparent through a drenched t-shirt and miniature hands, as delicate as a china doll’s. Her face is beet red with freckles peppered across the fair skin of youth. Her baggy shorts are tied as tightly as possible around her mid-section, the hem of them still below the knee.

She is speechless.

I kneel to be eye level.

“Hey there, what’s your name? Do you wanna tell me?”

Someone from further back in line, clearly much bigger and older hollers out, “Her name is Melissa!”

“Melissa. Mmmm,” I pause for a moment. You are definitely Magical Melissa.”

And this…this is where words fail me. In that wordless space between the two of us something magical was being exchanged. I knew exactly how she was feeling. I could see it in her eyes, feel it in her gaze and literally touch it with my soul. In that brief instant, we were one in the same…Melissa and me. She was me and I was her and for a second I stood there before her as the 4th grade Molly who somehow didn’t feel like she fit in. The fourth grade Molly who was scared to speak up in class, told that tomboys were weird and somehow just didn’t feel pretty enough.

In that visible empty space between the two of us, I saw what was in her and she saw what could be in me.

“You just can’t find the words, can you?”

She shook her head, a smile rising up from somewhere deep inside began to make its way across that beautiful beet red face.

“Will you sign my shirt?” I asked.

She enthusiastically nodded her head.

I handed her the pen, turned on knee to present my back to her. I felt her tiny fingers straighten the fabric of my green Girls on the Run t-shirt and delicately scribble out words yet unknown to me.

Later on that night, I slowly undressed, exhausted from the day. I carelessly pulled the t-shirt from my back, tossed it onto my hotel floor, replaced it with a clean one and snuggled my way into much needed sleep. Reaching over to turn off the light, I glanced to the shirt that lay at my bed side.

And then I see her words hiding there, tucked in among the dozen or so names and scribblings across the back of my shirt: Magical Molly.

Melissa may have said nothing, but my memory of her speaks volumes.


  1. You got me with this one, Molly. I'm crying - even more than I did when I read your book. What a beautiful, magical story.

  2. Thank you Brianna. You get it don't you? You really get it.