February brings to my mind cold and prickly weather, but also warm and fuzzy thoughts of Valentine’s Day. It’s a favorite holiday because I think we all need to express our love and appreciation a little more. OK, a lot more.
“Ah love, it’s a grand thing,” as Lady Cluck wistfully observed, while gazing at the dreamy Maid Marion in Disney’s “Robin Hood.” And I agree with her.
For years, our home rang with the delightful music and scenes from that show and many Disney classics, because Heidi, our beloved little girl with Down syndrome, adored all things Disney. A few years later, her sweet personality shifted into anxious and baffling behaviors (before most had even heard the word autism) and our videos went from being a simple joy to a deep need of Heidi’s to collect and constantly carry with her.
Fast forward to Heidi’s teen years. It seemed like a true emotional addiction to perfectly line up all her movies on the floor and stare at them, while emitting an odd sustained growl. If we moved them, she freaked. Life looked perfect at the Pearson home on the outside, but inside, life was complex and draining. (Thank goodness our family generally enjoyed hearing her movies play constantly, and today are sane individuals.)
Looking back, I’m grateful Heidi saw examples of make-believe characters portraying principles of perseverance and themes of love conquering all. Actually, this happened in her daily life, but her autistic mind couldn’t relate to the examples around, so I slowly built bridges by referencing life experiences and emotions to Heidi through her movies — because they were more real to her — than real life.
Countless times when her movie finished, I’d say, “See, Heidi, everything turns out great when we keep going and are brave. It always works out in the end.”
I still believe “happily ever afters” can come true.
There are other great examples that inspire me to be a better person. I especially felt that as I cared for my ill husband, who suffered from acute kidney failure on Christmas Eve. Believe me, it’s quite different to care for my “disabled” spouse, than the both of us helping our handicapped daughter. Our difficult experiences gave us deeper admiration and “built bridges of the heart” to other individuals who take care of their beloved spouse for months, years and even decades.
I’m amazed at the remarkable historical accomplishment of building the mile-long Brooklyn Bridge, suspended over the East River between Brooklyn and Manhattan New York in the 1880s. Yet, it’s become more relevant when I learned more about the woman behind the scenes.
John Roebling, a brilliant bridge builder, attempted a seemingly impossible feat. After explaining future obstacles and goals, he convinced his son, Washington Roebling, an up-and-coming engineer, to partner with him. They convinced bankers to finance, and crews to build, the “impossible” creation.
The bridge was to be finished in five years, but a few months into the project, an accident crushed John’s foot and resulted in partial amputation. Within days, he died, leaving his son in charge. Only Washington Roebling, and to a tiny degree his wife Emily, knew John’s lofty vision and complex strategies. The venture was about to be scrapped, but together they persevered.
Without electric lights, power tools, computers or cell phones to complete such a bridge, crews created massive wire cables, molded cement underwater, rigged pulleys with animal teams, figured counter weights, and estimated wind and water factors.
At the jobsite, while frequently going up and down the caissons (the watertight chambers used to dig into the sand towards bedrock, pour cement and anchor cables, etc.) Washington Roebling got “caisson disease” as it was called. Today, it’s known as the bends or decompression sickness, a complex illness affecting the nervous system, joints and spine.
He became too weak and ill to go to the jobsite. Using a telescope from the couple’s Brooklyn home, he watched over the project while Emily became his secretary, eyes, ears, and voice. She took care of him at home and symbolically built another bridge as the messenger of detailed instructions to the crews of men at work.
Different accounts indicate after Washington became homebound, unable to speak, yet with his mind still sharp, he created a method of communication with Emily by lifting his finger. The incredible project took almost 14 years, but thanks to Emily’s astonishing efforts, her husband remained chief engineer of construction.
It was said of Emily Roebling: “She is a woman of infinite tact and wisest counsel” and “invaluable.” Washington Roebling suggested his wife be the first to cross the bridge, and as she passed by in an open carriage, hundreds of workers raised their hats and cheered. Against all odds, this valiant couple literally changed the world.
In my comparatively simple world, I’m thankful my husband is doing excellently under my diligent care and his doctors’ recommendations. We’re both grateful for bridges carefully built over the years by teachers, therapists, and care providers of our darling daughter with many special needs. Heidi is 28 and lives semi-independently from us with remarkable, big-hearted “professional parents” who listen to a lot of Disney’s Robin Hood. Bless their hearts.
Remember, even a simple Valentine or note can build bridges between hearts, link lives together, and heal homes.
Pearson is a Special Needs Preparedness Specialist who loves strengthening families worldwide. Contact her at: