Destiny Snell's expression is one of abiding glee as she recalls the day a few weeks back when she first heard the chirping sound at the crosswalk near her high school, Analy, in Sebastopol.
It came months ahead of what she'd been told would be the case. It signaled freedom.
A year into learning how to navigate life with most of her vision gone, the sophomore is driven to master all the tools and skills at her disposal to minimize limitations on her life.
The busy crossing at North Main Street on her route between school and home was a clear impediment to independence. Now, she can cross it off the list.
In the months since she learned about the sight-stealing tumors in her brain, the 16-year-old has undergone two surgeries and suffered weeks of daily radiation to preserve what little vision she had left. Through it all, Snell has confronted her situation with a fortitude and practicality that's awed those around her.
That she's brave in the face of growing blind is impressive. That it's just the latest hardship to come her way earns her instant respect.
"Destiny is one of the most courageous people I have ever come across," said Leslie Edmonds, part of a team from the Sonoma County Office of Education that is teaching Snell adaptive skills, from Braille to using talking computers, to overcome her impairment. "The inner strength is just off the charts."
Snell gives credit for her endurance and upbeat perspective to simple optimism, as if it's a small habit from childhood she realized one day was of use.
The challenges of her life might have taught her otherwise. Bitterness would have been an understandable choice.
Having endured a childhood without her parents, neglect as a preteen and the more recent shock and discomfort of losing her eyesight, Snell said she copes because it's her custom "to look at the bright side."
Diagnosed with the benign tumors that pressed on her optic nerves right around the time she was to start driving lessons, Snell will miss out on that landmark high school achievement. The trade-off, she says, is deciding she has license to appoint personal chauffeurs on a whim.
"I tend to find the positive in things," she said during an interview at home near downtown.
Since her open-heart surgery seven weeks after birth, "taking care of myself a lot" as a child, and the gradual transfer of parenting from her biological mother to guardians whose attention faded with time, Snell has been forced to develop the kind of resilience that's impressed those aiding her through the latest round of adjustments.
Next up is still-unscheduled surgery to correct a 2-inch discrepancy in the length of her legs -#8212; surgery she hopes will ease chronic pain in her hips and ankle, and is thus welcomed despite the recovery.
It helps to have the obvious love and support of her newfound family: a father who conquered addictions before fighting in court to get her back, a take-charge stepmother she calls Mom, and protective siblings from a blended family. She's got a team of adoring educators, as well, who specialize in different areas of instruction for the visually impaired, including technology, social skills, Braille, mobility and orientation.
But Snell admits it's been difficult to settle into a new school just as she's relearning how to live, knowing the kids who surround her haven't figured out what to make of the girl who uses a white cane and has an ever-present school aide.
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