This photo was recently posted on a friend’s facebook page.  My response was JOY!  There is no other word to describe the fullness of this little girl’s expression (or the camel’s for that matter.  :))  But truthfully, I feel as if even joy doesn’t describe it completely.  I feel this photo more than I think it.

This past summer, Girls on the Run was invited to attend Nickelodean’s “Worldwide Day of Play” hosted by Michelle Obama, the President’s Council on Fitness, Nutrition and Sport and of course…Nickelodean.  I, along with several of our Girls on the Run International personnel were joined by several staff members who work in our DC office.

The event was overwhelming.  Literally thousands of people attended.  The music was awesome.  The mud left over from days of rain was challenging and as with all events such as this…the constant “on” can become exhausting.  BUT…the outcome of course…wonderful connections are always made.

So…here is a visual of the scene.  Girls on the Run had a booth tucked in between two other fabulous organizations.  The flow of “people traffic” was constructed so that folks had no choice but to walk by every booth.  (Good job Nickelodean!)

We had a table with some giveaways (wo)manned by enthusiastic volunteers.  Girls and their families would stroll by, stop with wide-eyed recognition of our logo and name and come in to the booth to meet and greet with us.

It was an all-day affair.  By 2:00 I was looking forward to sitting.  (And if you know me…sitting isn’t something that I come by willingly very frequently.)

Just when my energy was waning a bit, a family comes strolling slowly in.  Mom, Dad and daughter walked up to me, as I (and I’m being honest here) was trying to hide somewhere to the side and refuel myself by reestablishing a positive frame of reference (rather than focusing on my tired legs and exhausted voice.).

Well…if refocusing was what I was seeking, I definitely got what I was asking for because there in front of me stood this family. It was clear to me that they were not the most athletic folks at the event.  My first impression slated them as more cerebral in nature.

Dad was tall.  Mom was short (5 feet) and their daughter was quite short and shall I say…quite round.

Dad:  So, we’ve never heard of this “Girls on the Run.”  Can you tell us about it?

I stood up and flowed right into what I know so well.  “Girls on the Run is a program designed to enhance a girl’s blossoming sense of self….” The words come easily to me these days.

Mom:  This sounds like something I could have used when I was a girl.  (If I had a dollar for everytime I have heard that…seriously…we’d have an endowment as big as Texas.)  But our Abigail here…well…she isn’t into sports and seriously…doesn’t like to run…(pause here)…AT ALL.

I looked at Abigail.  She had a round, cherubic face, that was very flushed from the heat and humidity of the day.  Perched on her teeny-tiny nose were some teeny-tiny Harry Potter kind of glasses.  She seemed intrigued at that moment by the odd array of pronounced veins on my hands and arms…the result of years of athletic conditioning and the ensuing lean build that comes with that.  They were, of course, right there in front of that teeny tiny nose, while I stood to converse with her parents.

I lowered myself to a football stance…one knee to the muddy earth below us and one foot still perched beside it.

“What cha looking at?”

Her glance moved from my hands to my eyes.

I took my right index finger and traced a line on the vein of my left hand and said, These are pretty weird lookin’ aren’t they?”

“Yes.”  She nodded.

“These are like this because I run a lot.  I love to run.  I feel like a wild horse when I run.  Running frees me.   I am someone who is happy when I run.”

We pause.  “Your mom said that you don’t like to run.”

She shakes her head.

“What do you like to do?” I asked.

“Read, write and draw,” Abigail responds. She smiles.  Her eyes are twinkling behind those spectacles.

She likes being heard. I like being heard, too. We chat another minute more…about what specifically, I don’t remember.

And then we are done…with the talking anyway.  That’s when, for whatever reason, we begin, to just kinda look at each other…in silence…for what seems like minutes.   There was a lot going on around us…the music, the noise, the mud, her parents standing behind her, my knee slowly sinking into the muddy ground…but for that fifteen seconds it was just the two of us….the one of us…connecting, feeling, knowing, being.  There was a growing sense of wonder.

I took her hands.

“Abigail.  You know how you feel right now?  THAT feeling?”

“Yes,” she responded.

“That is how I feel when I run and I’ll bet how YOU feel when you read, write and draw.  That, my friend, is Girls on the Run.”

She smiled.  I smiled.  We knew.

We laughed about my muddy knee.  She hugged me and I hugged her back.

Funny…I met hundreds of people that day, but my connection with Abigail is certainly (and obviously) one that struck me in a way I will never forget.  I think real connection is like that.  We get so busy tangled up in words, trying to prove our point, say the right thing or explain ourselves that we forget the power that silence can bring…the chance for real connection…the willingness to wiggle through the awkwardness of it to the other side where words become unnecessary and just being with someone says enough.