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  • Writer's pictureLinda Odhner, with photos by Liz Kufs

Excerpted Inspirations #47

[Marie Killilea wrote two books about her daughter Karen Killilea, who was born with cerebral palsy in the 1940s and overcame both physical and societal challenges in order to lead an independent life in adulthood. Marie was a strong advocate for the rights of people with disabilities, helping to found two non-profit organizations dedicated to improving their standard of living, ending institutional abuses, providing vital information and services, and promoting their inclusion in all aspects of society.]

"A letter addressed to Karen typified the reaction of readers not personally concerned with cerebral palsy. It came from a young woman named Barbara in Columbus, Ohio.

"'Dear Karen,

"'I just finished reading the story your mother wrote about how hard you've been working to learn how to do things. I've looked at your picture so much that I feel as if I know you -- probably because I'd like so very much to know a girl like you.

"'You have courage, Karen, and that is a wonderful thing. They give people medals for having the courage to face death. The people who have the courage to face life usually get success instead of medals. When courage comes wrapped in gaiety, it's something bigger, so much bigger that, instead of just getting, the people who have it give.

"'It's like a daisy in the field. It can't stay the same forever. It's a bud, then it's a flower, and then it goes beyond that and becomes a little packet of seeds. The next time you go by, there's a patch of daisies, and after years go by, a whole field of daisies is growing where only one had the courage to grow before.

"'I want to thank you for the seed you've given me, Karen. There isn't anything much wrong with my body, but my disposition sort of needs a brace -- and a lot of exercise too, I guess.

"'And if little Karen can work so hard, I certainly ought to be able to stand on two good legs and face the world.

"'What you have done for yourself isn't just for yourself; it's for all of us. By fighting and slaying your own personal dragons, you give us all courage, not just to fight dragons, but first to face them.

"'So God bless you Karen! And, thank you so much.'

"This letter we saved and gave to Karen one dark day when hope was teetering on the scale of the 'known' and the 'unknown.' We thanked God then, and now, for all the Barbaras of the educated hearts."

-Marie Killilea, With Love from Karen (1963), pp. 92-93

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