It’s easy to get caught up in all the issues, challenges, demands and other details that complicate our daily lives. And then every so often something happens that snaps you back to the larger perspective, the more important things in life. One of those restorative events occurred for me recently. I was called to the Information Desk to speak with a guest. Sometimes that means a guest with a concern, sometimes a fun question about the ocean. However, I wasn’t prepared for this encounter.
I met the guest, introduced myself, shook hands and then she said, “I have something I’d like to share with you.” She was a career recreation professional, having devoted the past 35 years to serving inner-city youth; the kind of giving, caring person who keeps life meaningful for young people who may not have access to many opportunities. That was obviously her personal life philosophy as well, as she began to tell me about a special-needs child she adopted over 20 years ago.
Her adopted son had significant developmental disabilities. As he grew from infant to toddler to preschooler, he had difficulty responding to any kind of stimulus presented by his mother. However, that didn’t deter her efforts. She talked to him, played with him, took him places and exposed him to a variety of important experiences. Soon he was five years old, and had never spoken a single word.
Then came their first visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The sea otters are always a big hit with our guests, and so it was for this mother and son. When they came to the otter exhibit, a miracle of sorts happened: The boy walked up to the widow, pointed at one of our sea otters and said, “Meow?”
“That was the first word my son had ever spoken!” she exclaimed. (She paused her story here for a moment as she raised a finger to catch a tear on her cheek, and regained her composure.) She knew at that point that all those years of nurturing her son were, indeed, worthwhile -- that perhaps things might work out after all. It was a huge breakthrough for her son, and a relief for a mother who worried about him every day.
Today her son is 22 years old, high functioning—and still a huge fan of sea otters and the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
There is no doubt that animals have a special way of connecting with us, and vice-versa. Studies of Animal Assisted Therapy have proven the value of domestic animals in overcoming communication barriers—particularly with younger patients.
The sea otters certainly had a place in that boy’s heart, which triggered something new in his mind. As far as his mother was concerned, this was nothing less than a miracle. But the real miracle was in the heart of this lady who adopted a special child, and had the enduring faith that a mother’s abiding love could overcome any disadvantage.