A little girl. I see her in the lobby. She is staying at the same hotel I am staying at. She is maybe 10 years old. She has her luggage with her.
Her gait is severely uneven and labored. She is having a difficult time moving her legs. It takes her several minutes to traverse the lobby.
Her mother is with her, holding the child’s arms for support. The girl takes multiple breaks to catch her breath. She sits on her luggage now and then. She looks like she is going to puke from exertion.
Her luggage is blue and orange, with Auburn University logos plastered all over. There are burnt orange ribbons in her hair. Her T-shirt says “War Eagle.”
The little girl is not giving up. Each time she gets onto her feet, she staggers across the lobby with a determination such as I have rarely seen.
She’s getting closer to the elevators now. There is a man holding the door for the girl. He has been standing here the whole time, waiting for her patiently.
Once the little girl is in the elevator, we are all crammed shoulder to shoulder. We are close enough to smell what each other had for lunch. Someone has been hitting the onion dip.
“What floor?” one passenger asks the girl.
But the girl struggles to speak. It’s hard to get words out. You can see her mouth working hard; nothing comes out but small groans. Even so, her mother doesn’t help her speak. She has the courtesy to let her daughter do it herself.
“S-s-even,” the little girl finally says.
We are riding upward now. When we deboard the elevator car, a few of us passengers offer to carry the girl’s bags to her room. The child labors to respond to the offers, stammers, and she eventually gets the words out.
“No, thank you,” says the girl, flatly. “I can do it myself.”
The mother shrugs and looks at the us as if to say, “Kids.”
So we all watch the little girl—with her heavy roller suitcase and backpack and hair ribbons—stagger through the hallway, moving at a pace of about three feet per minute.
Her mother lingers behind her. And as the girl shuffles along, inching toward her room, I see her stumble. The child loses her balance. She falls. It’s not a faceplant, per se, but it’s not pretty. She hits the ground hard. She comes down with a thud.
She is on the floor now. Her mother is trying to help her off the carpet, but the young woman says, “No, mom! Let me do it myself!”
“Please let me help you,” says Mama.
The girl pushes her mother away.
The girl takes five minutes crawling off the floor. Determined to do it herself.
Truthfully, I don’t know how she manages this when her legs are not cooperating and her motor skills are apparently delayed.
Her mother watches her daughter struggle. You can tell the mother really wants to help her child, but she honors her daughter’s wishes. Because that’s what good moms do.
Once the child is on her feet, the kid dons her backpack, and resumes towing her suitcase. They pass me on the way to their room. The little girl and I lock eyes for a brief moment. I am not an Auburn University man. But I know true greatness when I see it.
When the child passes, I smile at her.
“War Eagle,” I say.
The kid smiles back and I can see tears on her cheek. “War Eagle,” she says.