By Tom Touney
For The Catholic Messenger
My assignment for Night To Shine was co-leader for the coat check team but it was a young lady in a wheelchair and her father who touched my heart that evening. After checking in his daughter’s coat and his jacket, I watched as the father took a hair brush from his pocket. He smoothed out his daughter’s hair with the brush because it had become tangled after removing her hat. I could tell he wanted her to look extra pretty before they made their grand entrance onto the red carpet and into the arena. I was moved by his gesture.
As the guests and their buddies were preparing to leave several hours later, a coat team member approached me and said there was a problem. A man could not find the coat check tickets given to him when he arrived. I recognized him as the father I had seen brushing his daughter’s hair earlier in the evening.
He described the color of their coats but no one on the coat check team could find them. I suggested he search the coat racks while I stayed with his daughter, who was huddled in her wheelchair. She must have sensed someone else was now standing behind her instead of her dad. As I stood with my hands on the wheelchair, she twisted her head back to see who was there. She looked at me and uttered something indistinct and repeated this a second time. Her reaction caught me by surprise. Meanwhile, her father located their coats and I stepped back as he returned to his daughter with her coat and hat. She resumed the sounds she had made earlier to me as he gently placed her arms into the sleeves of the coat and pulled her hat over her head. He tenderly reassured her that she needed to wear her coat and hat before they could leave the building.
The memory of this father and daughter has stayed with me. I thought of the father’s decision to bring his daughter to Night to Shine. A gala such as this was going to be a special night they would share together. I wondered what they did during the evening. Did he take her to receive her corsage at the flower station or bring her to the hair and makeup station for a quick touchup before entering the main arena? Was she able to pet a therapy dog or see one of the mascots who was there? Did he pick her up and dance with her or take her through the candy line? Were they able to share a limo ride and have their picture taken? I wondered what she would remember about the evening.
I’ll never know the answer to all those questions but I think I now understand what she was saying when she turned her head towards me and spoke in the best way she could. She asked if I would tell everyone what a splendid evening this was for her. And that she will always remember the many smiles she received on this night and all the people telling her how beautiful she looked. I can now quietly tell her that I shared her gratitude and thanks with everyone who had a part in Night To Shine.
(Tom Touney is a member of St. John Vianney Parish in Bettendorf.)