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Burton determined to let her different abilities shine

Posted on Monday, August 19, 2013 at 11:46 am

LOGO More About MooreMeredith Leigh Burton has been full of surprises since the day she entered the world three months early, on July 4, 1983.

Get to know her and you’ll discover a gifted and independent young woman who sings beautifully, loves drama, graduated from college and got her teaching certification for grades 7-12, teaches Sunday School, has been a volunteer English teacher at Moore County Middle School, has had three books published and, incidentally, is totally blind.

When Meredith was born, she weighed 1 pound, 12 ounces. She remained at Vanderbilt Medical Center for three months on oxygen, which saved her life, but caused her retinas to detach resulting in blindness.

It was a frightening time for her parents, Jim and Carol and big brother, Trent. She weighed 4 pounds when she came home from the hospital and had to be hospitalized four times with pneumonia. Thankfully, grandparents, Lilbern and Juanita Rutledge and R.D. and Lorene Burton, lived close by. A network of extended family and friends were also there for support.

Meredith went to kindergarten at Lynchburg Elementary. In the first grade, her parents, both teachers at Moore County High School, made the heart-wrenching decision to send her to the Tennessee School for the Blind (TSB) in Donelson, where she became a residential student. It’s difficult to imagine how hard this must have been for Meredith and her family.

Meredith dealt with her loneliness by withdrawing into a little shell. However, with the attention of reading specialist Dr. Mila Truan, before the Christmas break she had learned to read and emerged to discover a whole new world.

It was at TSB that Meredith learned to live independently and discovered her love for music and drama. Her parents were pleasantly surprised when they went to a Christmas program and Meredith sang a solo.

Her studies at TSB took 14 years. Because Braille has more than 200 characters compared to the 26-letter alphabet, the children spend two years in the first grade learning to read. In her senior year, Meredith took additional advanced honors courses at Donelson Christian School, which allowed her to enter MTSU with college credits.

Going from a school of about 180 to 23,000 students was a predictable culture shock, but nothing Meredith couldn’t handle. She lived in a private dormitory room. Each semester someone taught her the route to her classes. Then she was on her own, finding her way with a prayer, a cane and identifying landmarks. She was allowed extra time for exams, dictating her answers to a proctor, who Meredith declares got writer’s cramp.

Meredith remembers three mishaps in particular. During her junior year at TSB, her assignment was to ride the public bus to Tower Records near Vanderbilt. The bus driver forgot about her and she was “lost” for awhile. She got a cell phone the next week.

At MTSU she was knocked down by a very quiet, but thankfully slow-moving car, and once she fell down some steps, breaking her ankle. To allow her to finish the semester, her mom moved in with her and the university found someone to push her to class.

Meredith has enjoyed traveling with her aunt and cousin, Brenda and Jennifer Pollock. They recently returned from Meredith’s second trip to New York City.

Three years ago, Carol was shocked to find a publishing contract in the mail. She and Jim had no idea Meredith had written a book. She now expects the publication of her third book by Christmas. All of her books, Crimilia, Jarah Portal and Soral’s Rising have main characters who have a physical limitation.

Self-pity is not in Meredith’s vocabulary. She would be the last person to define herself as disabled. She knows that people who cannot see, hear or walk, have other God-given abilities. As she clearly sees it, she is not a person with disabilities, but rather a person with different abilities.

Meredith aspires to be a full-time literature and reading teacher. She hopes to encourage students that whatever their limitations, they have gifts that can make a difference in the world. Until that door is opened for her, she is using her time to write and to teach the rest of us what trusting God and courage look like.

 

June Pugh is an award-winning writer whose “More About Moore” column appears every other week in the Moore County News. Write to her at <jjpugh@bellsouth.net>.

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