On our visit to Pittsburgh last weekend, several times I answered, "Yes, we are from Dallas."
People seemed surprised that we had traveled all the way from Texas to see the rubber duck. In some ways, I was also surprised, but under the persistent urging of my 9-year-old daughter, we came.
Anna was born with a primary immune deficiency, a rare and chronic illness that has held us in a great struggle these last few years. Although Anna looks entirely normal, her lungs are not. They seem particularly prone to letting her down at the onset of any infection.
Normal colds last six weeks. A common childhood virus such as chicken pox can be deadly. Infection can be her worst enemy. Unfortunately, as any parent knows, early childhood is full of colds and flus, cuts and bruises. These experiences are most often a nuisance for others, but for Anna they are physical and social obstacles.
Anna has fought a long battle that has taken her from 57 percent lung capacity and 7 percent strength to almost normal. Her life has consisted of doctors appointments, therapy five times a week, and staying away from anyone who could give her a respiratory infection, especially other children.
In order to lift her spirits she began to collect rubber ducks when she was 5, and now she has somewhere between 100 and 200. Each one was greeted with joy and excitement -- who can frown and be sad when given a rubber ducky? Perhaps all of us remember Ernie singing his "Rubber Duckie" song on Sesame Street, and this long-ago memory stirs childlike joy within us.
Anna's journey surprisingly reminds me of the one that Pittsburgh has had to travel. In the beginning a flourishing and promising arrival, and then as time advances and health declines, seemingly insurmountable obstacles appear on the horizon. With hard work and investment, one by one the obstacles are overcome, until rising from the ashes a rebirth takes place.
Anna, a child -- Pittsburgh, a city -- experiencing the benefits of hope.
This is what brought us to Pittsburgh. How did we know about the rubber duck? What child does not know how to browse the Internet these days, and after finding an article from The New York Times, Anna persisted in begging us to go.
And, why not? How could we resist all the emotional wellness that our rubber duckies had given us? Was Anna strong enough to go? A flight in the spring to see her cousin had required her being placed on oxygen for half the flight. But the summer had passed and she was stronger. I decided to take her.
Our first visit to the rubber duck by Florentijn Hofman was on Saturday morning. The walk through Point State Park was beautiful, and our excitement escalated as we rounded the bend -- there before us in the Allegheny River was the largest rubber duck our minds could imagine.
Anna's heart leapt with joy, and mine leapt because she was so happy. As she looked at the rubber duck, the shield of pain and fear cracked in both our hearts and began to crumble. Who would think that a silly, enormous yellow rubber duck could defeat a wall of fear?
In that moment, I felt we were standing in a new place in our lives. Not one of looking back, but of looking forward. It no longer felt as if we had lost much, but that we had been given much.
Thank you, Pittsburgh. The journey was successful -- no oxygen was needed on the return flight -- and we are now back home.
Pittsburgh will hold a special place in our hearts, one of joy. And just as the city of Pittsburgh has gone through a rebirth, it became our platform of rebirth as we admired the rubber duck that brought a smile to the face of everyone who stood on the bank of the Point.
The PG Portfolio welcomes "Out-of-Towners" submissions from visitors sharing their Pittsburgh insights and experiences, in addition to other reader essays. Send your writing to firstname.lastname@example.org; or by mail to Portfolio, Post-Gazette, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh PA 15222. Portfolio editor Gary Rotstein may be reached at 412-263-1255. First Published October 17, 2013 8:00 PM