I am ready for something uplifting.  A few posts ago I mentioned a book I am reading:

Walking With Loneliness by Paula Ripple (1995) Ava Maria Press

There’s no money being made from this blog, so for educational purposes only I am going to copy here a story Ripple wrote in her chapter IV, Noticing Life.  Times have changed since this was written.  I am not sure that even parents who are sending young children on a plane who are not flying themselves can get through security let alone visit with the child once it has boarded.  But here is Ripple’s very nice story:


Rhonda, the little balloon lady

“I was flying from a religious education congress in Spokane to Minneapolis.  When I got on the plane, sitting in the front row of the nonsmoking section and crying very hard was a little girl.  Kneeling beside her, and clearly not flying with her, was a young man.  With tears streaming down his face, he hugged the little girl as the cabin attendant announced that all visitors had to leave the plane.  I have seen this in so many airports in the country:  “child visitation” they call it.

“I was sitting in the row behind the little girl, and I reached to touch her shoulder and ask her if she wanted to come and sit with me.  As she turned her tear-stained face upward, she was crying too hard to speak and could only shake her head to say “yes.”

“As I took her by the hand I asked her if she wanted to sit in the center seat or by the window.  She was very clear about wanting to be near the window.  As the plane was being pushed back from the jetway, she was crying ever so quietly, looking at the gate area in the airport and saying, in a barely audible voice, “I want my daddy, I want my daddy.”  As she spoke these words, her left hand was cupped around her face.  She was barely moving the fingers on her right hand as she waved good-bye to her daddy.

“This little child was bearing her pain with such dignity.  She was so protective of her daddy and told me later that she had tried hard not to cry because she knew it was difficult for him to leave her.

“During the first hour of the flight my little friend told me that she was almost five and that her name was Rhonda.  She reviewed, through her stories, all of the ways in which the divorce experience affects children.  She spoke of her divorce, never of her parents’ divorce; she believed that the divorce was her fault because she had been naughty; she knew that both her daddy and mommy were hurting and so she didn’t want them to know how she felt.  She also believed that, if she was good, the divorce might not happen.  Such large problems for one so small.  Such inner burdens for which there was no present relief for her.

“Then she turned to me, asked to borrow a Kleenex and dried her tears, as if to suggest that she wanted to think about something else now.  She asked me if I wanted to see the presents her daddy and her grandfather had given her.  She showed me a set of felt-tip markers and a coloring book that had some blank pages for “Rhonda originals.”  I asked her if she would make a picture for me.  She asked me not to look so that the picture would be a surprise.  When it was completed, she presented a picture of a lovely clown.  When I asked her how she knew I had a special fondness for clowns, she looked so pleased.  Then she put out her hand to take the picture again for a moment while telling me that she wanted to give her clown some balloons.  When she handed the carefully drawn picture back to me with the balloons added, every balloon was black.

“How I envied this little girl whose feelings were so clear to her.  How grateful I felt for her trust in sharing them with me.  What a paradox that picture was — the happy clown figure with the black balloons.  How much it was like her life with its sadness of separation from her father and the periodic happy space of a visit with him and her grandfather.

“As I was tucking the picture into my briefcase, the cabin attendant came to take Rhonda’s bag to the front of the plane.  Rhonda looked up, pointed a finger at her and said, “I don’t want you to take my bad.  This lady will do it,” pointing to me.  How quickly bonds form between people who share life.

“When it was nearly time for us to land in Minneapolis, Rhonda tugged on my sleeve and said to me, “I’d like my picture back, please.”  With sadness and reluctance I reached for it and as I did she must have noticed my disappointment so she quickly consoled me by saying, “I want to make another for you.”  The second clown was nearly identical with the first but this time only two of the balloons were black.  Somehow I believed it was her way of telling me that I had made her life a bit brighter that day.

“As we were leaving the plane, she had to wait for a cabin attendant to take her and I had another flight for which I was nearly a half-hour late.  She put her arms around me and kissed me and said, “You are a very nice lady.  Thank you.  Why were you so good to me?”  I hugged her and said, “You are nice, too.  I like you very much, Rhonda.”

“We said good-bye and parted.  As I walked to my concourse my mind and my heart were filled with this child who had been such a gift to me.  I felt so good about myself because, for me, it is very special to be loved by children.  I spent the entire flight to Boston thinking about the qualities that I loved and had come to admire in this young child, qualities that she had been neither embarrassed nor afraid to share.

“Rhonda was very much in touch with her feelings and she was trusting enough to share them, even with a stranger.  I wish that at any given moment I could be that clear about how I feel and wise enough to entrust it to someone who would either help me accept the black balloons or help me exchange them, one by one, for a brightly colored balloon bouquet.

“She was very good at making decisions and clear about what she wanted, whether it was where she would sit, who would carry her bag, or what she wanted to share with her father as he left her on the plane.  I wondered why I so often have difficulty in making decisions or, even more often, why I sometimes hesitate to tell someone what I have decided.

“Rhonda did not feel sorry for herself.  She spoke much more of her daddy’s pain than of her own.  She was so sensitive to my short-lived disappointment of losing the clown that she quickly offered to make another.  She who was so tiny and carried such large hurts made me realize my own ability to magnify small hurts and to let them fill all of the space inside me….

“…Rhonda somehow knew that meeting people and sharing life with them was one sure way to become happier, one sure way to see another facet of life.

“Because Rhonda liked herself she was not afraid to give others the opportunity to love her.  She needed some reassurance from me that I cared as I left her, but through the hours that we shared, it was clear that she liked herself enough to believe that I cared.

“By the time I reached Boston I had noted, in a journal that I keep, 27 qualities about Rhonda that I loved and admired.  I did this because she had reached deep into my life, and thinking of her was a way of reliving the happy time we had shared.  I did it as a reminder to myself to notice my own life a bit more and to see if I am doing as well as she did….

“I am thankful that I met Rhonda.  My “dedication to thankfulness: demands that I remain faithful to all that I learned from her about allowing others to be present by letting them into my life.”  (pages 62-66)


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  1. What an uplifting story. I also wish I had the ability to openly discuss/show (know) my emotional state.
    She is bearing a burden alone – even tho she is able to talk about her feelings. Aloneness is the hardest –
    That’s when the why of what we are doing, thinking etc is biggest. Why did she do those drawings – because
    they were important in that moment and for her to be able to find a person to share that with.. I wish for all
    Of us that we can find a few coloured baloons in our lives.
    That anger you’ve had – must be so hard to bear. Its what happens when the people who are around abuse
    Run and hide from it and keep running. Xxxxxx

    • Hi Gingercat! Anger. My mother was MADE of RAGE!! I know now from the developmental neuroscience where the brain changes and how so that rage, aggression and violence can end up being the body’s only option for survival.

      Yet I am by nature a peace-filled person — an antithesis to the kind of rage Mother had as she used it against me.

      I was deeply shaken yesterday as I listened to my mother’s oldest friend talk about what Mildred told her about my father’s rage turning against Mother after I left home. WOW!! I will process this deeply, but knowing that in ways I will never know Mother being able to turn her rage on me — which Father allowed to happen for the 18 years I lived in their home — accomplished something powerful. Once I left home the entire balance of the pitiful trauma-filled mobil that was our family was upset and the rage then took different forms.

  2. How we all read stories from our own perspective. For me the girl Rhonda acts precisely as a survivor of abuse. A normal child would be egocentric, crying about how she would miss her daddy. Dissociation causes this strong empathic, adaptive attitude, makes one feel other’s feelings, so she immediately pick up, that the woman is hurt, by not being allowed to keep the drawing. She makes her own logic, by then making another. A survivor of abuse tries to control anything that is in her control, like carrying the bag. As she had no control at all about the divorce. Which parent let a their daughter believe and let her keep that belief that in any way the divorce was her fault?

    I felt responsible to save my family? From the earliest age i can remember i broke my head, my mind over how i could reconcile my parents, how i could save my family. When around 20, i found, i could not differentiate which feelings/emotions were my mother’s or which were mine.

    When my father attemtpted to murder me at 12, all i could worry about, is that he would get in prison.

    Yet, at 62, i have no judgement about this extreme empathy. I know i have saved some people. I hope, that some day i will be able to wield this quality, without risking, with a heart so open in compassion, to be triggered into a devastating traumastate/freezeresponse/ plus fight-flightresponse. Not knowing where to go, finding myself in timeless limbo, until the storm calms down, practicing Mindfulness, breathing in my heart, knowing it will pass in its own rhytm, its own time.

  3. I did not want to “spoil the story” by saying what is obvious to any child abuse survivor reading this post: Nothing about how this encounter between the author and this little girl played itself out would have happened this same way if that little girl was an abuse survivor. All survivors reading this post can point to specific parts of the interaction that they personally can relate to as having been an area where a history of trauma in this child’s life would have ALREADY robbed this precious child of her right to be a healthy person.

    Divorce is very hard on children. I realize that. But it is the self this little girl has within that shines in this story. Had abuse been a part of her life that natural ability children have to shine would have been so changed through pain and fear that hardly any shining would have – well – SHONE in this little girl in this situation.

    Instead tragedy would have altered how an abused little girl’s self felt to her, how her reality felt to her, how she could communicate who she truly was — and was not allowed to be.

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