It was only three years ago, Millar began, in his gripping tale. He had traveled to China with a group of principals and the Department of Education as the only special school principal to learn from the mass teaching on the Chinese. They were so high up in the international leagues, the goal was to pocket the wisdom and return to Northern Ireland days later.
Then there was that moment that happens in everyone’s life, where if you could erase it, years of upheaval and pain would vanish along with it. Life is all about timing, and depending on who you’d ask, Millar was either in the right place at the right time or the wrong place at the wrong time.
The Chinese school girl was thin and small. Her jet black hair was pinned neatly behind her in a ponytail. And as she stood there speaking eagerly to Millar, she suddenly stopped. Her eyes lingered on him for a moment before squeezing tightly shut and then she exploded into a sneeze.
That was all it took for Millar to collapse into a coma for a month.
“Give him more morphine!” the nurses said, clamoring around Millar’s lifeless body, as they zipped in and out of the quarantine, cautiously donning masks and plastic body protectors.
The IVs pumped through his vein, the machines beeped – Millar was alive, but he was gone.
“His lungs are 94 percent infected,” a doctor had told Millar’s wife Claire quietly, and Claire and their two teenage sons circled his bedside patiently, eyeing the familiar face before him that displayed a distant, unfamiliar look. “Where was he?” they wondered.
Then everything went black. For two minutes, Millar was declared dead.
But he couldn’t be dead. He was out of his body now, pulled through a dense atmosphere of light into the purest and brightest light he had ever seen. An elated calming sensation filled him and he moved through the barrier-free light towards a white door. He was free of pain, free of worries, free of time. He was ready to come home. He raised a fist towards the beaming white door and knocked.
Back at the hospital the doctors paced relentlessly, turning up the heart machine’s voltage, slamming electricity into his chest, again and again. Millar was gone.
“Claire,” a doctor rested his hand insistently on Claire’s arm. “It’s okay, you can kiss him goodbye.”
Claire said nothing. She was still holding her husband’s hand when it had happened, and she squeezed it even harder. She leaned in slowly and rested her lips on Millar.
Millar waited outside the white door, anticipating the warm embraces on the other side.
“NO! GO BACK!” A booming voice erupted out of nowhere and everywhere.
Millar's heart sank in frustration. It was not his time. He tried to resist the pull but within seconds he was whirled away from the brilliant, blissful light and slammed back into his body where every nerve and muscle in him throbbed in pain.
Suddenly the machine beeped. Millar’s pulse had returned! Millar jolted to life. Claire could feel his breath. The lines of life zipped up and down like mountain peaks on the heart machine, and the doctors in the room cheered and sighed deeply in relief. Tears of relief fell down Claire’s cheeks, as she smiled at her husband. It was not his time.
“Colin?” His eyes glazed open; the room was blurry.
“You’re lucky,” the doctor had said, smiling. The hospital was buzzing. “It’s a miracle,” were the words that breezed through the office.
“You shouldn’t be here,” the doctor said as he loomed over Millar’s bed, eyeing him appraisingly. Millar wondered if he should feel thankful or weary. These words echoed through his mind as he mustered with all of his body to lift his arms.
His arms wouldn’t move. He tried to speak, but nothing came out. The breathing chip the doctors had planted on him since his lungs stopped working had suctioned deep dents had planted around the sides of his face, and his lungs felt wobbly and pinched with pain.
“Chronic muscle damage,” the doctors would later tell him, and he wondered if his life was over.
“Is this me now?” he thought glancing down at his motionless feet. He didn’t recognize the limp body before him. “Am I going to be bed bound?”
Millar winced with pain and strained to raise his head to look around the isolation ward. A man named Scott from Scotland lay beside him on his left and a woman from England lay in the bed beside him on his right. He felt lucky his plane had landed there in London when his lungs collapsed. The U.K. housed only four of these special machines to treat swine flu patients: one in Scotland, one in Dublin, one in London and one just South of England.
So how does one go from collapsed lungs that are 94 percent infected, completely lose their ability to move, walk and even talk to 90 percent healthy tissue, moving about with the rest of the population, a trauma that today is completely undetectable?
As I watched Millar talk about Claire, his late wife and best friend of 25 years, a primary school teacher well loved by the community, who recently passed away from cancer in the liver after having fought breast cancer, I figured there was more to his recovery than just the six months of physical therapy, and for a moment, I thought that I saw the beginnings of tears that glistened in his eyes.
“Unplanned trauma!” he said of her death, emphasizing the word trauma with a dramatic exclamation point that somehow felt helpless. Claire was always by his bedside during that time, and even though he couldn’t move, he could hear her comforting voice.
“God is with you” she would always say to him softly.
Then he looked down for a moment and admitted, “I still suffer PTSD as a throwback because of the trauma of the coma. But I handle it. And Claire accepted her death and she’s a very strong person of faith. She told me just to live my life for the boys. It’s not easy. But we get there. Life throws you these things and you have to just deal with them or lie down.”
It wasn’t until one year later that Millar met up with the other two swine flu patients who had laid beside him those fateful weeks in the isolation ward. As they sat there in the psychologist’s office, Millar couldn’t help but eye Scott, the man from Scotland, who was now confined to a wheelchair, “his legs never came back,” and the other woman wheeled around a hefty oxygen tank because her “lungs never returned.” Millar felt almost guilty at the irony.
“I’m sitting there, you know, I was the oldest out of all of them…I never thought that I would have the strength to face something like that. I’d be the one who would take the road of least resistance.”
Millar shrugged. “There are things in life you worry about and you think why am I worrying? This is silly. It worked out. There are more important things. And since Claire’s passed away it’s reinforced that. Life is too precious to spend time worrying.”
The Colin Millar today is a different principal than the one who started at Killard seven years ago. He sees the children with poor muscle tone. He’s learned to walk again. “I realize the strength it takes to put that foot on the floor.” He sees the children who struggle with their words. He had to learn to talk again. “I had to get speech therapy because my tongue went loose…my wife used to say unfortunately it did come back – she wished it was the one that hadn’t – but I understand children with speech and language difficulties. I think it’s made me a better practitioner because I know in some way – not totally – I’ve been in their world a little bit and I’ve seen the difficulty they face with the simplest thing so I appreciate that more. People say it’s a miracle but I say ‘God wouldn’t bother saving Colin Millar.’”
The sting of his wife’s death was sprawled all over Millar’s face, as he relayed the one lesson that he now lives by:
“I told myself, ‘Stop taking things home and worrying about them.’ Life is too precious – spend time with the ones you love because tomorrow is not promised and you could wake up tomorrow and your loved one is gone.”
There was a sense of calm order in the house with Claire, and that too familiar feeling that the family would always be around the table every night laughing about their day, but Millar’s boys, now 24 and 21 have left home, and I got the feeling that Killard, always teeming with life and music, is a welcoming familiarity to Millar.
I glanced at the picture tacked to Millar’s wall near his desk of Kaylee and I imagined Millar displaying the star pupil’s picture with pride. In a way, she’s put Killard on the map.
“When Kaylee first came to us she was not as confident, she had a lot of issues,” said Millar.
I remember Tracy telling me about the years before Killard when Kaylee and Noah were in mainstream primary schools and the daily meltdowns on the sidewalk just before entering school and immediately leaving for the day.
For a child with autism bound to a classroom that’s teaching to the average child, it’s like, as Sheryl Stewart, the director of National Autistic Society explained, “a coke can shook up.” Kaylee and Noah learned to bottle the classroom pressure until they were outside, then they exploded. Sobs, wailing, violent tempers – once that door to their home was locked, another child emerged.
But Millar gets this, he knows these children need to be taught in a different way; they need their routine.
“When they do feel wobbly it’s not that they’re being thrown, it’s their way of communicating they’re overstimulated and they can’t deal and they have to be taken aside and arrive at what we call, ‘thinking time.’ But a lot of people who don’t know rush in and try to solve quickly but they can’t think of solving until they come to their calm state.”
It’s funny how things click into place once you understand who you’re dealing with. Those kinds of pre and post-school meltdowns don’t happen anymore.
"It’s more like a family here,” Killard’s music teacher Lloyd Scates would later confirm in an interview with me. “There’s a family atmosphere and everybody looks out for each other. Kids are the most important build of the school. It’s as busy as other schools but it’s very much child-centric focus approach.”
As soon as I returned home the U.S. I began researching our special needs schools but was immediately discouraged at the all-too-common $60,000 per year price tag parents were forced to cough up.
I couldn’t get the Killard children out of my head. After my visit to Killard, I saw their children everywhere - bopping in and out of the grocery store, running down the grassy hills, and on the sidewalks, all these little people in engraved blazers and tie uniforms that reminded me of what a luxury Northern Ireland’s special needs children have.
My last day in Donaghadee I met a woman who had a child with autism who attends Killard. “Don’t you realize that you live in the perfect hub for a child with autism?” I had asked her, but until his child was crammed into a standard American classroom, I knew she had no idea.
It was really Killard, after all that first gave Kaylee the chance. After Killard TA Victoria Scates overheard Kaylee singing Frozen’s “Let it Go,” she knew there was something special. She raced down the hall to tell her husband Lloyd Scates. “You have to see this,” she said, grabbing him by the arm, and led him into the classroom where Kaylee was singing.
Killard listened and cast Kaylee in a singing part in their Christmas concert and an even bigger part the next year. “By the time she reached P7 two years ago when she sang ‘Hallelujah,’ she was very comfortable singing and it just opened up. She’s taken off since then,” said Millar.
But Millar cautiously filters through the noise that came with Kaylee’s stardom. “We get a lot of offers but we have to maintain her education and her stability…I would turn down a lot of things people would ask me to do. She’s still a school child, she still needs to learn.”
While the world searches for the cause of autism, Millar avoids the word cause altogether. “We need to look at the identifying factor which is suggested this child might likely present this ASD profile. ASD to me is not an illness, not a disability; it is very much a population who learns in a different way.”
Take exams for example. “Our exam system is very based on written papers. Not all children can communicate effectively written. Orally are highly intelligent but they will not score highly on our exams because the exams are not oral. So we’re missing a whole big group of children."
The tests Killard gives children are diagnostic to give them information to help the learning. “I don’t need to know what a child gets on whatever test – that’s not important to me. But our mainstream system is exams, exams, exams – the whole way through the child’s life.”
The burden of exams is not a weight special schools bear unlike mainstream schools. “We work on the whole child. That’s why I couldn’t leave the sector. I couldn’t go back to mainstream. I would not like to be confined to the chalk and talk, the learning the facts, the exams, the testing. I like our curriculum in the special sector because we do a plethora of things. Because we have to. Because our children do not all learn the one way.”
“I couldn’t tell you one thing that I did in chemistry,” Millar said reflecting on his science degree. “But you know, I had to do that to get to the next stage of my career. But of what benefit? I’m not examining bits of trees and looking at cells and mitochondria and all those sorts of things. But I had to do it," he said of the exam-driven education system. "[The children] go on to accept and they forget all that because that was just to get through that gate. ‘I got my ticket,’ and I think their durable learning journey is not effective because they’re not getting the full picture.”
What I’ve observed in my own and my friends’ college experience, is that when you’re in it, real-life principles can be lost in a kind of passionless theoretical learning format, and when you’re out, you almost feel conned.
If Millar had it his way, “The first thing that I would do is stop the homework. I don’t know what they’re for and what benefit they be. I've now changed our homework system completely to what we call skill-based.”
Millar actually assembled a parent meeting one night to ask the question, "What’s the homework doing? The work is done in school." He had a new idea: The children go shopping and pay for the bill and make sure the change is correct; they go home and make two rimes of toast and a cup of tea for mom or dad. There’s even personal hygiene ones. They take a shower every day and use conditioner – home-based learning like that fosters independence.
“I would allow children to have a childhood when they leave school – to go home and be a child at home because social skills are crucial.
“Children today no longer talk as much and make eye contact. Mobile phones are not really phones because they don’t always speak into them. It’s all visual – text, text text, and they’re losing that important human interaction that when you go into the workplace you have to be able to communicate. IPads – parents should enforce only half an hour or an hour a day and that’s it,” Millar said. “Get your child back to school. Get your child out climbing trees. We’re too much a cotton-wool society. Children don’t face risk. So they’re vulnerable…they’re cocooned.”
Special needs schools’ children like Killard’s are especially vulnerable. “We need to show them not every person they meet is going to be kind. Not every person you work with will be necessarily pleasant. They might not like you for some reason and that’s okay.
“Get the children out in nature,” Millar urged passionately. “I think we’ve lost that and our kids miss out on trees or the outside and the joy you get through feeling a puddle beneath your feet and all those things that people may go, ‘Oh they’re lovely memories,’ but they actually are! They’re experiencing life."
Millar paused for a moment, then poured out his worries.
“30 years ago,” he said, “a child maybe had difficulty reading or spelling or counting. Now we’re dealing with emotional attachment disorder, anxiety, and self-harming," said Millar of the mismatch that could likely be corrected by a call for more practitioners trained in mental health issues. With the increase in mental health issues, Millar fears the worst: suicides, particularly in boys.
There’s a movement going on that I've witnessed worldwide thrusting more and more children into mainstream units.
Inclusion, they call it. But to Millar inclusion has to work for the child. It’s not just simply they're all in the same school together so they're inclusive. Inclusive means every child gets the right to the education they need, and that’s because you’re meeting everybody’s needs.
Nothing was the same after Northern Ireland’s assembly crashed and its councils were faced with the impossible task of delegating budget cuts due to the multi-million-pound debt that affected special needs schools like Killard. I suddenly felt sorry for Millar; the death of his wife, the loneliness he must feel, his passion for the school and concern for the children there. For a moment, I had no words.
Millar stood up abruptly from the table and crouched down, wiggling his arm through the depths of a cupboard.
His face broke into a wide grin. “Do you want a cookie?” he offered. A small bag of cookies lay in his outstretched palm and I gladly selected a cookie from his secret stash.
Millar sat back down in contemplation. “It breaks my heart when they leave us,” he said of Killard’s children. “When you’re with them since they’re three you get very attached to them.”
There are moments when he sees his former students. He’ll be in Bangor, the next small town over from Donaghadee, and they’ll walk in front of him – at the mall, or inside a restaurant. They’ll stop and chat with him and he takes that as a sign that they were happy at Killard. They call Millar by his name; they ask how he’s doing. “It’s lovely to see,” said Millar, as he smiled in recollection.
So what happens after a child’s time at Killard ends? Let’s be realistic, the job market for people with autism isn’t booming but take the example of the kid cooking pizzas at the store Sainsbury in Bangor:
“They’re the best pizzas ever made because every single one is perfectly identical,” said Millar, shuffling his hands on the table into neat rows. I busted up laughing. Other people might slap on 19, 20 or 16 pepperonis per slice. But this kid, no; 18 precisely arranged circles on every pizza — even the space between them is the same, Millar told me. “And he loves his job! He doesn’t have to talk to anybody. That’s his routine.”
“I like to think that I did make a difference somewhere down the line,” Millar said thoughtfully. “If a young person leaves here and they’re able to go live on their own, to me that’s a success.”
The next rainy morning, I had left my hotel in my parka, and was just about to turn left up the hill when a vaguely familiar figure of a blonde woman in exercise clothes walking a black lab on a leash moved quickly down the sidewalk in my direction. I paused.
“Tracy?” I ask.
It was! We both laugh at the coincidental timing, and I told Tracy I was heading back to Killard for an interview with Lloyd Scates.
“Oh, this is the best way, Tracy said, as the dog tugged on the leash. “Let me walk you.”
“This must be Buffy,” I said, petting Kaylee’s notorious black lab.
Buffy, dusted by light rain, eagerly jolted on the leash, and we paced swiftly behind him. He knew exactly where he was going; Killard was his daily morning walk.
This is the dog, who Kaylee’s parents had told me, was trained to comfort Kaylee when she didn’t sleep and eased her during meltdowns.
I imagined Buffy, as Neil described, ambling unhurriedly up the stairs to Kaylee’s room with a heavy sigh at the sound of Kaylee’s first cries. He was the family’s ordained special needs soother; a role that had somehow been informally cast on him, and if he had been one of them and not a dog, he would probably have had a say in it. But he embraced his role, he was fond of Kaylee, probably more than he was of anyone else in the family, and his paternal care for her always kicked in. I imagined Buffy pausing outside of Kaylee’s door as she wailed, the way one collects oneself upon entering a scene, then nudging her door open with a light paw.
We continued walking uphill along a winding dirt path until Killard House School poked out in front of us among a vast green landscape, and I glanced back at the city, flecked by seagulls near its rocky cliffs, and the occasional car whizzing down the main street. A small old-fashioned looking milk truck put by, and I laughed.
“Yes, it is a little like going through a time warp at first,” Tracy had said on my first day in Donaghagdee but quickly recounted the biggest plus-side of leaving behind America: “The food is all fresh – the seafood, the meat from the local butcher, the local dairy, the local baker. Even in the stores, say, frozen pizza, it’s not like in America where it tastes like cardboard.”
“That’s all you talk about is the food!” my dad later told me after I returned to the U.S. But I couldn’t help it. The chemical-laced food in the U.S. was a shocking plunge compared to the carefully crafted fresh meals the Irish prepared.
As we walked, Tracy praised Lloyd Scates for his role in Kaylee’s life and her excitement for the upcoming black-tie Snow Ball event in Belfast that weekend. Kaylee’s family belonged to the National Autistic Society’s Newtownards group that was celebrating 10 years, and that night Scates and Kaylee would perform together onstage, followed by Lloyd’s band Platinum entertaining the dancing crowd into the late evening.
By this time, we had reached Killard House School, parted ways, and I entered a world buzzing with activity.
An electric feel was in the air at Killard, the kind you get before a big holiday, as a herd of giggling uniform-clad children trickled into the gymnasium for choir rehearsal.
Out of the corner of my eye, I glimpsed Killard’s music teacher, Lloyd Scates, chasing after the children, armed with sheet music.
He zipped in and out of the gymnasium a few times and then there he was in front of me with an outstretched hand. He didn’t look like a music teacher to me. He was wearing a thin blue North Face jacket and jeans, the kind of attire you might find on a guy where I’m from in Colorado. His face sprouted with the beginnings of a beard and he donned glasses that sat in front of a pair of amused brown eyes, the kind that spots unintentional comedy but doesn’t tell you.
This guy really was hard to pin down. Out of all the people in Kaylee’s circle who I reached out to, Scates was the most mysterious, and I didn’t even expect an interview with him. I suspected this might be due in part to his busy schedule and slight leeriness to respond right away to some jazzed up American ready to zip across the globe to feature Kaylee. I figured Scates was naturally protective of her, especially after the video had caught fire all over the world. I had only seen Scates before in videos with Kaylee, and a gentle understanding flowed between them where no words were needed, like what two famous musicians from the same band emit when they’re on-stage performing. I believe Kaylee and Scates found solace in each other because their talent, love, and dedication for their music was matched.
“He’s just really nice…we do fist-bumps after we sing. He’s like my best friend. I really love him.” Kaylee had said of Scates with a warm smile.
Once Scates spoke in that thick Irish accent, all trace of the Colorado image was lost. "We're running a bit behind schedule," he said, leading me into the gymnasium. A large stage loomed at the end of the gymnasium next to Scate’s shiny black grand piano, an anonymous gift to Killard House School after the “Hallelujah” video. His electric keyboard was parked in front of the stage, where music books and speakers crammed on the floor beside it.
"Kaylee won't be rehearsing until about noon." He offered me a seat aside his grand piano as the children bumbled up the stage's stairs.
The children’s friendly chatter soon melted into silence once the choir director shouted commands from below the stage. Killard’s faculty had perfected the art of patience. Nothing phased these teachers. The director repeatedly walked to the stage and pushed a girl’s knees shut who was sitting in the front row, a boy sat gaping at the ceiling and she gently snapped him back to life, she stilled another boy who bounced his jittery legs up and down, and then she raised one summoning hand in the air. The children stood at attention.
“Kid concerts,” I thought. “This should be cute.”
Scates struck a chord and the singing erupted. “Immanuel…” the children sang, “…and now my words cannot explain, all that my heart cannot contain…”
“Sharing my humanness, my shame, feeling my weaknesses, my pain…”
This was just far beyond children singing generic Christmas songs. “This is really good!” I thought, and I wondered for a moment if the children realized how unordinary this was. Of course they didn’t.
“Music is a massive way to communicate and a massive part of what we do here in school,” Scates told me after rehearsal. “There’s singing here every day of some sort.”
And then I wondered if Tracy was right. Was it really more than just a coincidence that a principal with a background in theatre who loved music, a professional musician for a music teacher and Kaylee all arrived at Killard at the same time? There was something phenomenal going on at Killard, and music was a big part of it.
By the time Kaylee and her the rest of classmates piled onto the stage, I was already memorized by the previous melodic performance.
Kaylee waved at me casually and took her place in the middle row. I could tell by her beaming smile that she had been anticipating that moment on stage. It wasn’t until “Hallelujah” that she pattered up to her front center position, microphone in hand, and swayed confidently, peaking the word “Hallelujah” at the top of her lungs. The children behind her obediently followed in chorus, and Scate’s eyes remained on Kaylee until the last note.
I pulled Scates aside after rehearsal ended. I had to tell him. “I think you’re a musician who fell into the role a music teacher, not a music teacher whose role is a musician,” and he smiled.
Scates is not just a musician who performs with Kaylee I learned, he also has a band in Northern Ireland called Platinum that plays around 100 gigs a year. He’s one of those people who’s in-tune with music; he has a degree in classical music; he can play the piano by ear, he can take any blues or jazz song and create his own rift – he’s been doing this since he was 15, it’s like second nature to him. “Your zone of genius,” I told him.
“There are so many kids, not just Kaylee, in this school, you’ve heard some of the singing today, who have autism or some sort of term. But music I think it’s a fantastic way to communicate and it brings with the whole repetition of words, and then just kids growing confident. Autism shouldn’t be a barrier. Just because you’ve got a label doesn’t mean you should be put in a corner or whatever. There’s a lot of levels of autism and it shouldn’t be classed as a disability. It should be something to be celebrated,” he said, echoing what I heard earlier from Tracy and Millar.
That Saturday Scates and Kaylee would stand side by side on stage at a charity Snowball event in front of a suit and gown-clad audience. Kaylee would sway clutching a hand-held microphone, her white satin dress shimmering in the blue and purple spotlight, Scates, closely off to her right in the shadows playing at his keyboard. I think about how different this all could have been. If Millar hadn’t come to Killard and introduced such a musically rich program, if Killard had never given Kaylee the chance to lead the choir, if her parents hadn’t taken Kaylee’s diagnosis of autism seriously, and if Scates hadn’t always been by her side, teaching her confidence, as she said.
“You can’t take Mr. Scates with you forever,” Tracy had reminded Kaylee. There would come a time when Kaylee would likely move from a stage in Northern Ireland to a stage in America’s Broadway or London’s West End. And a new group of children would come through Killard, and a new principal and a new music teacher, and this would all be a memory. But I had a feeling Kaylee’s picture would remain tacked to Killard’s principal’s office wall.
She was unforgettable in so many ways. She had done much more than put Killard House School on the map. She was a reminder of what happens when you give a child a chance to be who they really are. Imagine if every child’s school and support system adapted to the child and their passions instead of forcing the child to adapt to theirs. Killard accepted Kaylee for who she was, and she stood not only for every child with autism but for every child who had a dream.
"I’m not scared to be seen…I make no apologies…this is me…” she sang, as a mature voice belted from her tiny body.
“I haven’t done very much,” Scates said. “All I’ve ever done really is play the piano and encourage her to sing because she can sing. When she does sing, she goes to a different place. She just transforms. So I try and encourage that.”
It was the middle of a rainy weekend night when I left the small town of Donaghadee. My taxi was the only car on the road for miles. I slipped in my earphones and leaned against the back of my seat as we sped past the barely visible green Irish hillsides outside my rain-smeared window.
I knew that I would probably never see Kaylee again, not in person anyway, and as much as I loved Donaghadee, I would probably never be back. I felt sad at the thought, and turned over my phone, to play one of her songs. There was one in particular that I liked. “A Million Dreams” it was called, that featured Kaylee and the Killard House School choir. Lloyd Scates played his grand piano as the children individually took part in a verse. It was a beautiful piece and reminded me that despite how far away I was, the music would never stop.
“Every night I lie in bed…the brightest colors fill my head…a million dreams are keeping me awake…” the children sang.
The taxi pulled up to a curb and I stepped outside into the bitter winter night of Belfast’s Europa bus station. The taxi driver unloaded my luggage and sped away, and there I was in the dark alone. Moments later, a young man appeared beside me. Under just a streetlight, I could only make out fair skin, light eyes, maybe blue, about the age of 30. He had a kind of happy-go-lucky attitude and sat down casually on the bench beside me the way one would recline their living room.
He dropped his backpack below his feet. “Where are you going?” he asked me.
“Dublin airport – back to the U.S,” I said.
I was very tired, but happy to not be the only one outside in downtown Belfast in the middle of the night. He was from Belfast, traveling to Germany for work, he said. He did this all the time, and I could tell by his chattiness that he was wide awake. “You mean Donaghadeh,” not “dee” he said, correcting my long e sound, when I told him where I arrived from.
Suddenly a large Aircoach bus screeched to a stop in front of us, and we pattered aboard. The bus sealed its doors squeaked shut I slumped gratefully in a back seat near the window.
I had almost drifted off to sleep when a hand from the seat in front of me nudged me awake.
It was the kid from Belfast.
I heard him earlier singing along cheerily to some music he was listening to, and the two men in the seat across from me had shot him a look of annoyance. He was way too chirpy for the middle of the night, their stares said.
“Psst,” the kid said. A tuff of blonde hair and two wide eyes peeked over the seat in front of me. “Listen to this.” He threw over an earbud.
I put it in my ear. “…I think of what the world could be…a vision of the one I see…a million dreams is all it’s gonna take.” It was The Greatest Showman's “A Million Dreams” song.
I laughed out loud. And I couldn’t stop laughing occasionally to myself all of the way to Dublin and onto the plane until it ascended into the gold-rimmed Irish horizon and disappeared into the clouds.
“A Million Dreams” A Killard House School Production
Photos by/courtesy of: The Rogers Family | Jennae Geren | Little Big Shots | Boston Winter Ball | Killard House School | Belfast Telegraph | National Autistic Society Northern Ireland | The Newtownards Chronicle | Energy for Children Charity | Phoenix Natural Gas
Thank you to my friends and sponsors who helped me get to Ireland:
Jerry Manning, Tammy Carpenter, Levi Sawyers, Jaylon Mendoza, Mary Dravis-Parish of Simple Strategies for Family Living, and Tracy Rogers