“Man has always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much – the wheel, New York, wars, and so on . . . while all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man . . . for precisely the same reason.”

Douglas Adams

This dolphin is the sister of a dolphin I carved for the Carousel of Happiness. Before the carousel was finished and opened to the public, its dolphin and a carved mermaid who now “swims” next to it on the carousel, both spent time with Erin Arsenault in her home next to the fishtank where they all spent many happy hours together.

Miracles of Erin

Like every birth, Erin’s was a miracle – angelic face, delicate fingers. Little did we know how many miracles she would bring to us- both in life and in death.

As Erin failed to reach the “normal” milestones, we went to many specialists trying to “fix” her. One day as I was crying about everything that she wasn’t doing, she looked up at me and laughed and laughed. As my friend said – “she’s pretty terrific the way she is”. The first of many lessons learned from Erin.

At public school, she was a leader in “inclusion”. What can a child that doesn’t walk or talk do in the class? The kids knew – if you asked them. And by listening to them, they were empowered to know that everybody belongs. Because she was so vulnerable, they could let their “masks” down and she could touch their hearts. Erin had begun her miracles.

Erin loved the water, being in it, watching it. Trips to the aquarium brought all the fish over to her wheelchair as they shared silent communication. “A mermaid in another life,” I always said. When she was 21 she moved into her own home across the street with roommates and neighbors as her care giving “team” in a house with fish tanks and waterfalls. We saw over and over again the “magic” she wove among those that knew her and the community created around her.

Doctors said she wouldn’t live much beyond 14. Every birthday was a celebration of another year. Each surgery and hospitalization survival yielded more appreciation of every day. Erin continued to smile.

July 2010, at age 31, it finally caught up with her. The night she died a yellow butterfly fluttered outside her window. The next days we held a vigil while dozens of butterflies clustered out in the yard. At her celebration of life, hundreds came to speak about this one who had come into the world so vulnerable and yet so strong, who had touched their hearts and changed their lives.

A month later, I took to the ocean 2 locks of Erin’s hair. Before casting them into the sea, they formed a perfect heart in my hand. Releasing them into the water, I turned around and suddenly noticed an empty wheelchair on the beach. Turning back to the sea, 4 dolphins appeared leaping in a circle as if in joy. Erin had come home.

By Cynda Arsenault