I first found it when working at camps with young children. When I was seventeen, I volunteered at a horse vaulting camp. My group was full of little girls, aged seven and eight, who had to learn how to do tricks while riding horses. One girl in my group suffered from serious phobias, including a fear of heights and being around moving things. Being on top of a horse made her hyperventilate, and it was my job to calm her, because her parents had agreed to send her to this camp.
This little girl – I’ll call her Clara – didn’t think she could ever do something like ride a walking horse and hold her arms out in a salute at the same time. I kept encouraging her and working with her throughout the week, and every time, she got this look of defeat on her face before asking to dismount.
It was the second-to-the-last day of camp when I had a breakthrough with Clara. I told her, as I always did, that I was going to let go of her hand as I walked beside the horse. She didn’t like the idea, but when she was holding up her arms all by herself, a look of pure amazement spread into a smile across her face. She was doing what she had thought she could never do.
It’s happened several times, and I have a vivid image in my head of every face I’ve had the chance to see in this state of realization.
I saw it a couple of years ago, when I coaxed a barely-twelve-year-old into debating, and he knew more about the subject than he thought he did.
I saw it on the face of an anxious Apologetics student when I told him he could own the room he was speaking in if he stretched to his full height and spread his arms, and he tried it.
I saw it on the face of a dear friend who was raised to hate her own body, and she started dancing with self-confidence when I was the DJ for my family’s party this past Saturday.
The look is the same: always the willingness to trust me just enough, and then the girl I’m helping completely forgets me, amazed at herself. I could make comparisons and metaphors out of this experience if I wanted to, but I think the moment is so rare, so innocent, and so beautiful, it should be untainted. It’s worth all the work of investing in people.