By Bill Sniffin
We live in unusual times when what defines life is under constant attack. This got me thinking about two instances in my past that involved the dignity of life concerning two seemingly useless human lives.
There have been many people over the years who typified what this phrase means but two who stand out are a teenage boy named Stacy M and a tiny girl named Baby M.
They came into my life at two different times, almost 20 years apart, but both helped show that the real test of a civilization is how it treats the least of its citizens.
In the 1980s, we met a young man named Stacy Martell. He was a neighbor to my parents in the Capital Hill section of Lander.
Our son Michael, who was about seven at the time, became great friends with Stacy.
Stacy was a shrunken little shell of a boy stuffed somewhat crookedly into a wheelchair. He suffered from Muscular Dystrophy and was probably someone that a lesser civilization would have shuttered away. But in Lander, his high school classmates made him a hero. They had him give a speech at their commencement in 1989. The band played The Wind Beneath My Wings following his talk.
His talk that day was inspirational; so were his writings:
“There are times when I want desperately to be like everyone else. I’ve thought about marriage. There’s a void when I think this won’t happen, that I’ll never be able to have a family of my own.
“But I know a person can’t dwell on improbables. You have to take what you’ve got and go with it. I used to worry about what people thought of my body. But now I know it is a person’s inner self that is important, not your outer self. I’ve looked at my inner self: It’s healthy, strong, vibrant, and active. When I think of myself this way, I’m satisfied. I’m at peace with myself.”
Stacy wrote the following about life and death:
“I’ve lived, I’ve done my best, what happens, happens. I’ve seen an unspoken question in some people’s eyes. It’s ‘Do you wish sometimes you had never been born?’
“Absolutely not! It hasn’t always been easy but I’ve met the challenges and I’m here to say that life is worth living.”
A few years later, Stacy died. His life was a struggle and ended way too soon.
Almost 20 years later, we encountered Baby M, also known as Baby Miracle. She was probably an example of what became known in Wyoming as “meth babies.” These were children born with profound disabilities as a result of their mother’s drug use while not realizing she was pregnant.
Our advertising agency had just earned the contract to do the anti-drug campaigns for the state’s Substance Abuse Division and we were introduced to the story of Baby M.
My wife Nancy, my brother Ron (a videographer), and I visited Baby M and her foster mother at a modest home in Douglas one fall day almost exactly 16 years ago.
We worked all day to create a video documentary, which we planned to use to promote the negative impacts of drug use.
State employees viewed that video but they never quite figured out how to disseminate it publicly, so it pretty much ended up on a shelf at the Department of Health in Cheyenne.
Baby M was a beautiful baby girl, who looked about six months old although she was a year old when we met her. She was blind, could barely hear, and had a terrible time breathing. It was assumed she was profoundly developmentally disabled.
Did I say she was beautiful?
It was heartbreaking to think of the lost potential you were holding in your arms. Because of the assumed high-risk behavior on the part of the biological parents, this child appeared to not have a chance.
But this was a human being. And she was loved by her foster mother (the real hero of this story), loved by her foster siblings, and loved by everyone who came into contact with her.
At the time, a friend of the family wrote the following about the baby girl:
“Some people would define a miracle as something amazing, unexplainable, with bright lights or fluttering angels’ wings. Or simply, a glimpse of God.
“A special needs baby, Miracle, was born Sept. 29, 2002. Doctors gave her little chance of survival, but because of her will to live they considered her a miracle, hence the name. At five weeks old, Miracle was placed in the arms and the heart of her foster mom, who loved her so much that she later adopted her.
“Miracle’s family knew that she was not like other little girls and never would be, but she touched so many lives. Her innocence taught lessons in humility and her gentle little spirit gave people a reason to believe.
I wrote a note to myself, at the time, that: “You could not look at this beautiful child without catching a glimpse of God.”
And on a spring day in Douglas in 2008, Baby M passed away. She was six years old.
Check out additional columns at www.billsniffin.com. He has published six books. His coffee table book series has sold 34,000 copies. You can find more stories by Bill Sniffin by going to CowboyStateDaily.com.