Bailey Thomson Professor
Journalism Department
Box 870172
University of Alabama
Tuscaloosa, AL 35487
Tel: 205-348-8617
Fax: 205-348-2780


Jan. 1, 2003

The Power of Love

By Bailey Thomson

Gisella, who is our house guest for the holidays, has been learning to live again. She lost much of her first life in a cruel incident two and a half years ago when strangers threw acid on her. Her mental recovery has been almost as difficult as her physical healing. But now she has reason to hope.

Members of the First Presbyterian Church in Tuscaloosa met Gisella in Costa Rica. Since the tragedy, she had found solace in her faith. Still, an old question haunted her: Why had an attractive woman of 25, with a good education behind her, suddenly faced the unspeakable? There was no explanation – only the forgiveness she found in her heart.

Love does seem to conquer all. I have seen its power in the selfless response of people who want to help Gisella be whole again. They have held her hand as she left the sanctuary of her modest home to venture into the world again. They have bought her airline tickets, secured her lodging and calmed fears of enduring operations to repair her features.

Three doctors in our community will perform the surgeries and other medical work. They are specialists of high reputation, yet they are giving their services to Gisella. When they are finished, she will be able to breathe and eat in a more normal fashion. She will also be able to look in a mirror and admire what she sees.

Our family is the first of four to welcome Gisella as her hosts. I count this privilege to be the greatest blessing of the holiday season. We have shared through her eyes the excitement of seeing our community as a stranger might – a grateful stranger at that. The holiday lights, the material abundance, the festive mood all create a glow that too often we miss through our preoccupation with the ordinary.

Gisella notices everything, and her questions reveal a hunger for more. Why are American houses so large? Why does everyone drive? Who buys this mountain of merchandise?

She is overjoyed with the simple gifts we present her. A humidifier eases her breathing at night. Sweatshirts ward off the damp cold. Colored pencils and sketch books occupy her quiet moments.

Above all, Gisella seems to cherish our conversations around the table. At first, she offered only a few words in English, nervously asking me if she said them correctly. Now though my wife’s tutoring, she has grown more confident in speaking a language she spent months learning in her previous life.

She wanted to be a bilingual secretary and work for a big company. She came within weeks of achieving her goal following graduation from business school. The incident ended the first chapter of her dreams. Now she simply aspires to be independent and to discard the surgical mask that protects her delicate skin from damage and from curious stares. English may be her next ticket.

We have been careful with Gisella’s privacy, always leaving the past for her to reveal. Once she showed us photos taken before the incident, when she was beautiful on the outside. Yet she seemed to harbor no bitterness toward her assailants. She told us about her slow recovery in the hospital and the treatment doctors provided in Costa Rica. Once one of them held her trembling body and sang to her before putting her to sleep on the operating table.

A small Presbyterian church became her second refuge as she recovered. A young man working as a missionary there befriended her, and through him she met members of his Tuscaloosa church.

In her eyes, I suppose, only a miracle could explain such good fortune after so much heartbreak. I do not dispute that interpretation, because some things indeed transcend comprehension. To make a young woman whole again speaks of medical science’s advancement. To know the love behind that good deed reveals the human spirit and its connection to the divine.

Yes, we have all been blessed this season – all of us who share this story and feel its power.

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