Today my wife and I visited the Callahan School for the Deaf & Blind with our dog. We were running late. Our vehicle squealed into the parking lot on two wheels.
I applied deodorant in a timely manner, ate two fistfuls of Altoids, and made my way inside.
Marigold is my blind coonhound. She goes everywhere with me. We do everything together. I drive; she sleeps. I watch television; she sleeps. I work; she sleeps. I go out for tacos; she eats all the queso.
Mrs. Hess invited us to visit the school today, since many of the students can relate to Marigold.
We were buzzed in through the doors. I apologized for being late. Everyone told me it was no problem, which made me feel worse.
The first thing that struck me was how ordinary the school looked. Callahan looks just like any school in Anytown, U.S.A. Like every school you’ve seen a-million-and-six times before.
Same cinderblock walls. Same tight hallways. Same smell. Why do all schools smell the same?
But that’s just the surface appearance. Because nothing about this place is common.
Mrs. Hess has been working here for a long time. She’s seen it all. She’s had students enter her classroom in need of tender care. She’s seen these children find their voice. She’s seen them kick butt and take names.
Callahan is a public elementary school, they get kids here from all walks. This place is a miniature snapshot of Mobile.
“Welcome to the most rewarding place on planet earth,” says Mrs. Hess, ushering us forward.
Marigold and I approached the library. There were teachers waiting nearby. Outside the door, a cluster of tiny walkers and guidance canes were parked together.
“They’re ready for you,” whispered one teacher.
The library was packed to the ceiling with kids, waiting for their late presenter. I was greeted with several little faces beaming at me as we entered. Children immediately began applauding for Marigold.
Marigold could not see them, of course. Neither could many of the students see her. But tens of thousands of years of human history dictates that children love dogs. The room came alive.
“A DOG!” the kids said, almost in unison.
Their voices were laced with the reverence all kids use in the presence of canines.
After that, it was pure madness. The good kind of madness.
The kids formed a single-file line to meet Marigold up close. The room turned upside down with joyous delirium. You could cut the childhood exhilaration with a knife.
Ms. Trim signed as I spoke to the class. Other teachers addressed their students with microphones wirelessly connected to cochlear implants or hearing aids.
One by one they came.
The first young man to pet Marigold was unable to see. His head was down, his eyelids were tightly shut. A teacher guided him toward Marigold.
The boy placed a gentle hand upon Marigold’s silken fur. Then he pressed his nose against her coat to smell her. “A dog,” he said.
“This dog can’t see,” said one of the teachers.
He smelled her again. I don’t know what he whispered into Marigold’s ear.
The next child in line was a little girl who also could not see. She ran her hand along Marigold’s fur and said, “Do you ever let her come home with kids?”
A little boy with low vision placed both hands upon Marigold’s body, lightly moving his fingers along her outline. He felt her head, her muzzle, and her legs. They tell me he was forming a mental image.
“She’s pretty,” he finally announced.
Another little girl approached. There was a neurosurgical implant behind her ear. A ribbon in her hair. She gave Marigold a face massage.
“Face rubs feel good,” the girl said matter-of-factly.
Next, I met two 9-year-old girls who are still learning to use guide canes. One girl set her red-and-white cane aside and knelt beside Marigold.
She used her hands to feel Marigold’s petite frame.
“Marigold is just like me,” said the child.
“That’s right,” said her teacher. “She can’t see, just like you.”
Marigold leaned into the body of the little girl. The child rubbed Marigold’s belly.
“You’re so sweet,” she kept saying to Marigold. “Do you think I’m sweet, too?”
When the meet-and-greet was finished, I was hugged by this same girl. She thanked me for visiting; I thanked her for making us feel so welcome.
Before we parted ways, the teachers told me this girl was an excellent singer. So I asked the child whether she’d sing a song before we all went home.
The girl simply faced Marigold and sang, “You Are So Beautiful.”
“…You’re everything I hoped for,
“You’re everything I need,
“You are so beautiful, to me.”
“I told you, this is a special place,” said Mrs. Hess. “The Callahan School is smack dab in the palm of God’s hand.”
And for a brief moment today, so was I.