What’s behind a minor miracle?

By Betsy Neuville

Close up two hands reaching out to each other in darkSometimes, the right circumstances arise to create a powerful moment of growth and a poignant recognition of identity and personhood. For deeply wounded and devalued people, oftentimes their identity gets reduced to an impairment, or the person is simply seen as a part of a group of people. Recently, a small and shining moment was captured to shine a light into one woman’s identity.

Ms. Neha was found on the streets in a town in northern India, clearly in distress and unable to communicate in Hindi. Her mother tongue was not recognized by anyone, and she was placed in a shelter home where she remained for five years. Unable to identify her language, the people who worked with her were also unable to learn her story, understand her identity, and connect with her in meaningful, everyday ways. She picked up a few rudimentary words in Hindi over the years, but mostly she was unknown except as an inmate of the facility, a member of the group of women sheltering there, alone together, and together alone.

One day, two social workers arrived to learn more about her, and the others who lived here. They were struck by Ms. Neha’s desire to be heard, and their own inability to understand. After wrestling with the language divide, they gave up on the interview and just began talking to the care workers about how and when she was found. Afterwards, the two workers began discussing Ms. Neha and her situation, trying to imagine how it would be like to be unable to communicate, and be so separated from society, her past, and perhaps the people who love her and know her. In a moment of open curiosity, one of the social workers said “I don’t know, but I just have a feeling she comes from Orissa. Something about her face.” Within minutes, they had gained permission from caregivers and Ms. Neha to make a call to an Oria speaker they knew. Watching Neha’s face light up to hear her own language for the first time in five years was a moment never to be forgotten by anyone there. By the close of the conversation, Neha was recounting several villages she had lived in in Odisha, and the name of several family members. The way had opened for her to rediscover her roots and reclaim her story.

language mapMany would call this a minor miracle, or even a moment of pure coincidence and great good luck. It is more though, and also less. In fact, what propelled this change was a mindset – one of openness to genuine identification with Neha. This caused the worker to consider possibilities, to look at Neha’s face and see her, not as an inmate or “one of the women,” but as a person with roots, a story that needs to be rediscovered. It is this mindset that can be cultivated within each of us.