By Christina Maxwell
Distinguished Young Woman of America for 2012
I recently took a wonderful trip to Mobile, Alabama, the home of Distinguished Young Women. I was there for nearly a week, taking part in the Go Daddy.com bowl game events and speaking and performing as the national representative at various events. It was an incredible week full of memories that I will continue to cherish. However, two moments in particular have become a source of inspiration.
I had just finished talking to a large group of girl scouts about setting goals and how I achieved the goal of becoming the Distinguished Young Woman of America. At the end of my talk, I shared with them my dream of becoming a Broadway actress and sang “Over the Rainbow” for them. Then I invited anyone who had any questions for me to come to the front.
A miniature mob of little girls, with their sparkly scrunchies and light-up shoes, crowded around the edge of the stage. Their questions warmed my heart. The first little girl asked in a tone of wonder, “How do you get your hair to curl like that?”. Another little girl asked, “How did you become so beautiful?”. After a stream of adorable questions, the last little girl asked a question that caught me off guard. With a very serious expression, she said, “I was just wondering, is there really a pot of gold at the end of every rainbow?”.
My heart was completely melted at her unabashed sincerity and her authentic desire to know if life was really as good as stories and favorite songs made it seem.
Earlier that week, another child had left me speechless and in tears. I made a trip with the football players from the Go Daddy.com bowl game to a Mobile hospital to deliver toys and encouragement to children in the hospital.
One particular little girl was in the ICU, only ten years old, but with a beautiful heart full of selflessness and contagious joy that fought its way through the obvious sadness like a determined daisy shooting its stem up through a crack in the gray sidewalk. This little girl insists on saying a prayer for anyone who comes into her room. And sure enough, after we had visited and laughed with this spunky and bubbly girl, she held our hands and prayed for us. From her hospital bed, hooked up to all kinds of tubes, she prayed a beautiful and sincere prayer, asking for strength and courage for the football players, medicine to make us well and thanking God that we were his children. Reduced to tears, I couldn’t even speak. This little girl, burdened with so much at such a young age, exhibited courage, unwavering joy and compassion that we are not familiar with.
What is it about children that allows them to feel so deeply and be so free with their questions, advice and joy? I remember when I was little, how I was so enraptured by the new and bright world around me that I couldn’t force myself to take a nap for fear that I would miss something. I would dress up as Snow White and sing to the woodland creatures I imagined living in our yard. I wasn’t afraid to tell people what I thought or to be loving and perhaps overly friendly to strangers. My parents told me a story about how one Sunday at church when I was very young, I sat next to an older lady who was patient and sweet to my fidgety little brother. After church, I wrote her a note that said, “I met a nice lady in church today and it was you”.
My acting teacher recently gave all of us students a piece of advice that has stuck with me. In her wisdom and goodness, she said, “It is important that we remember to check in with our five-year-old selves every now and then.” I believe that she is right.
What happens as we grow up that causes that child-like wonder to fade? Where along the line do we let our insatiable appetite for life and love, merry abandonment and our ability to dream wildly be extinguished? As we grow up, reality sometimes takes a toll on us. We realize that there aren’t always fairy godmothers to remind us that we are the belles of the ball rather than someone who deserves to be hidden in a corner of cinders. Young men aren’t always kindhearted and handsome princes and sometimes the pot of gold you had hoped was at the end of the rainbow isn’t there.
Yet, in times of inevitable disappointment, I think it is wise to follow my teacher’s advice and see what our five-year-old selves would have done. I think it is when we can face grown-up trials and tragedies with a child-like heart, full of stubborn resiliency and unwavering belief in undeniable good, that we have truly grown up … and miracles happen.
Christina Maxwell is a college freshman at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan majoring in Musical Theatre. Originally from Asheville , North Carolina, Christina was a participant in the Distinguished Young Women program and was selected as the Distinguished Young Woman of North Carolina for 2012 and the Distinguished Young Woman of America for 2012. Learn more about Christina here!