To the Point with Michael Hogan

Michael Hogan

There are moments that stick with us, memories that become ingrained in our being. I remember so many things vividly; the World Trade Center crashing down, the Space Shuttle Challenger exploding over Florida, Kurt Cobain ending his life in Seattle. Some instances in our lives become seared into our souls, like scars on our psyches. There are memories vivid and vague, of joy and exhilaration, of sadness and fear. But right now, there’s one in particular dancing through my head.

Ten years ago when I was eighteen, I was disgusted with the world around me and distrustful of the people in it. I had nothing going for me; there was no college in my future, no great career looming on the horizon. There was nothing and I felt it.

During the summers, I volunteered at a religious camp in my hometown. It was like most every religious camp for children- we sang songs, ate snacks, played games, and taught morals and life lessons. Most of the children there have faded from my memory, fallen off into the fog of the past. But one child has never left me.

Brittany was two. She was a shy little black-haired girl whose two older sisters attended the camp, where their mother also volunteered. At the first song circle of the week Brittany was a bundle of nerves in her mother’s lap. She watched us all, both wide-eyed and wary. As the morning went on she refused to leave her mother’s side despite numerous requests from others to “come and play”. She was obviously afraid, so I offered her a cookie I’d taken from the snack tray in the kitchen. She accepted; after all, she was a kid, and cookies contain sugar. A comforted smile stretched across her trembling lips as the dread disappeared. I asked her if she wanted me to push her on the swing. Of course she did, I was the guy with access to the cookies!

The rest of that week Brittany didn’t want to leave my side. Whether we were in the song circle, outside on the playground, or in a classroom Brittany was, fairly literally, attached to my hip. When she went home each afternoon there was a warm hug. On the last Friday there were agonized tears along with that final embrace.

This little girl, not yet old enough to judge beyond instinct, found some kind of redeeming quality in me. Something about me told her that I was good, that I was a source of comfort. Brittany made me realize that I had something to give the world, that I was not useless. That little girl changed everything. Her trust and the sparkling smile that my presence conjured served as proof that there was some spark of humanity still smoldering within me.

Why am I telling you about some week at camp ten years ago? Why am I telling you about that toddler who, with nothing but a smile and a hug, “changed everything”? Well, Brittany is 12 now. She’s an energetic young actress. As I write this, she lies in a bed in a Rhode Island hospital, clinging to the last remnants of existence. Two bullets from her mother’s ex-boyfriend’s gun forcefully dislodged any innocence she had left in her brain. Once a frightened little girl with cookie crumbs on her cheeks, now Brittany is a fighter, struggling to remain in this world she was once so wary of. Though I don’t believe in God anymore, I have prayed every night since she was shot and left for dead in the safety of her own home. I am holding my own personal vigil until the moment she walks out of that hospital and regains some degree of that innocence that was so selfishly snatched from her.