Best New Beginning

A homeless boy. A woman determined to help. And a stack of drawings that changed two lives.

from Reader's Digest Magazine | May 2007

It isn’t always easy to let a child test his wings. Ashley learns this the hard way as July melts into August with little more than three postcards from Donald at his camp. She misses him.

But Ashley consoles herself. No news is surely good news. She reminds herself there were times after the storm when Donald probably thought he’d never be happy again. Now he’s at a place that can be described only as joy for a kid, a place where days are filled with activities and friends. She smiles at the image she has of Donald: a boy who had never left New Orleans, embracing a whole new world.

At last, Labor Day rolls around. Forecasters predict an unusually mild and wet weekend. But Ashley doesn’t notice the rain. She’s just focused on driving to Dallas, where she’ll meet Donald after so many months of being apart. She parks her car at the curb beside his house, feeling a nervous mix of excitement and curiosity. Will Donald have changed in this short amount of time?

Suddenly, like a colt bolting from his paddock, Donald comes bounding from the house and leaps over the low brick wall. He rushes to the car, to Ashley, and throws himself into her huge hug.

It’s a different Donald she holds in her arms. He has grown. But not just in height. It’s his carriage, his beaming smile, his confidence. He can’t stop talking: “I went fishing! And swimming! And not only that, I got an award! Best-mannered camper!”

This time, Ashley is the silent one. Overcome with a motherly pride, she looks deep into Donald’s eyes and finds a spark she recognizes as an aspect of herself — the dignity that comes from triumphing over adversity, the self-respect Donald will need to survive.

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