The day I first squatted down to meet her smile for smile, I knew that was not all at all. And soon, her candid, firm response to her kindergarten classmates told me everything I needed to know.
In the curious minds of her peers, Korri’s stature was indicative of her age. But the questions (When will you be five? How come she’s a baby?), with her capable coaching, were soon replaced by proud statements. “She’s my friend and she’ll turn six before me.” Or, “Just get her a stool; Korri can do it herself.”
Dwarfism had bowed her legs but not her spirit, encumbered her movement but not her heart. She fell often, and we all learned not to ask if she was okay. I would bite my tongue and hold my breath because her falls were hard. I’d keep walking as though the sound of her ample forehead smacking the floor of the hall hadn’t triggered a tremor through the fault line of our fears.
And then, as hoped, we’d hear a happier sound. The harder the fall the heartier the giggle as she pushed herself off the floor and continued her tenacious pursuit of normal. She would propel her short legs with such force in order to keep up that we had to prevent her from walking behind any kindergartner of typical size. So Korri became our line leader—in every sense of the word.
She taught us a new normal that had evolved, for her friends and everyone who knew her, into the old normal by the time she reached fourth grade. We followed her down the hall, right to the room inside of all of us where everything is relative, all is possible, and no wall is too tall.
It seems wrong that children should so often bear the burden of becoming their teachers’ greatest teachers. It feels selfish to be grateful for all that Korri taught me when she had to learn all the hard-earned lessons first. She had to take those tumbles and suffer through surgeries. The world she so loved never fit her properly, but she wore it better than anybody.
Those of us who loved Korri would like our old normal back. What we wouldn’t give to see her make fifth grade fit…a graduation gown…a wedding dress. How we would cheer, covertly of course, if she could push herself up just one more time. Her giggle would ripple through the line of life in her wake, softening all our fears to joy.
I want to say rest in peace, Korri. But you won’t rest. You never did. So go get’em, girl. And I will too. I will lift my head up off the ground and laugh with you.