A tribute to an amazing woman. Thanks, K, for all that you try to do. (8/2008)
I arrive, as do the others. She greets us all, welcomes us into the house. She wears a flowing floor-length, olive-colored cotton shift. I notice her ankles peeking out. They are nice, as ankles go, but what really catch my attention are her eyes. They seem to be doing a tango, perhaps keeping time with the clacking coming from three wooden bracelets on her elegant wrist. There’s a hint of a smile at the corners of her mouth. Just seconds after meeting her, I find myself willing to bet large sums of money the smile is a near-permanent fixture.
Instantly, I see that she gushes earnestness. This is perhaps the ultimate compliment I can give; Earnest people rock. She is clearly caring, loving. She is love personified; we all can see this immediately.
We gather. She explains. She guides and leads. We all share. A room full of strangers talking about deeply personal, difficult things. Mind boggling, really. That we do it at all is a miracle, and a testament to her and her staff.
She is much like a house mother. And yet this is a terrible term for her. It sounds so… so… matronly, so old, so unsexy. To label her ‘house mother’ might make it sound like she looks like Robin Williams as Mrs. Doubtfire, perhaps with little hairs poking out of his/her chin. That, my friend, is definitely not her. To call her ‘house mother’ would make her seem old; she is not. She is, somehow, eternally young. The description would make you think of warmth, which she exudes like a mug of steaming hot chocolate on a snowy day, but might make you think of someone plain. This is where this description falls woefully off the mark. For she is radiant, magnetic, a phenomon.
Perhaps ‘sun’ is a better word for her. She radiates warmth like the sun, and she shines brightly like the sun, but the sun can be too bright and too hot at times. She seems to have her flame set at just the right level: high enough to toast us all into marshmellowy perfection, but not so high as to burn us.
Perhaps a garden is closer to the right metaphor. If she’s a garden, she is bursting with sunflowers and daffodils and tulips, with energy and compassion enough for twenty. You might think I’d say that her garden was weed-free. After all, she sounds like a saint, right? But no, I know her garden has weeds in it; she’s shown them to us all, openly, honestly. But unlike the rest of us, her weeds aren’t a pest, aren’t a blight on an otherwise perfect garden. She seems to have co-opted the few weeds that do exist in her garden and made them a part of the garden itself, a part of her. She has turned her weakness into strength. How many of us can say that? How remarkable is that?
The morning session ends, and it is time for lunch, all of us together. Anxiety runs high on both sides. Before going up, I tell her a story about chopped liver, homosexuality, and chicken soup. (You had to be there…) Still unaware of many flaws, she says, “Where were you?” Well, thief, that’s my question. I ask it knowing there may be flaws, but thinking, at worst, so what, they exist. And besides, I’ve learned she’s performed alchemy on them in any event. I am taken, but I am taken.
Lunch is a salad, just right. We sit and talk and get to know one another a bit. Small talk, this and that, nothing within a thousand miles of serious. We’re all just chatting away. But I notice when she discreetly, gently, reassuringly places her finger tips on the arm of one of the young girls. The details of whatever side communication the two have had don’t matter. I see the young girl inhale deeply in response. Her awareness of the girl’s struggle and the warmth of her touch have helped the young girl calm herself, have given the girl an infusion of strength. It’s as if I can see the love that flows from her fingertips into the arm of the young girl, from her heart into the recipient’s.
The conversation turns to amusement parks and roller coasters, and to skydiving. One at a time, the rest of us contribute stories to the conversation while she sits quietly listening, indicating now and then that she’d rather be the one holding the souvenirs while everyone else goes on the rides. Only after we’re spent, the daredevil in each of us fully established, does her story come out. A terrible, bone- and life-shattering accident. An understandable desire to keep from falling through the sky ever again. Who else but the most mothering, nurturing, caring person sits quietly through the entire conversation, letting us have our fun?
Perhaps this sounds like selflessness taken too far? What about self-preservation, you ask. Well, given what she has been through, it is safe to say she has, now at least, a well-developed self-preservation instinct. This isn’t just a rug welcoming dirty soles to soil it. This is a woman seemingly fully at peace, and in touch with her soul.
Maybe that’s it. She’s the personification of a soul. A huge, expansive, inclusive soul which gently enwraps all of us, all who she meets, all who are lucky enough to meet her. After seeing what is possible—after meeting her, being touched by her—how can any of us be the same, or see the world in quite the same way? We simply cannot.
But a walking, talking soul sounds a tad scary, and she is anything but scary. Perhaps I should say that she’s like Vitamin water. She’s got the purity of water, but is somehow fortified, stronger. Close, but no. Water is too clear—this label makes it seem as if she is transparent, simple. But she is complex and nuanced, a full three dimensional person, not just a cardboard cutout.
Ah, I’ve got it. She’s ‘Special K.’ The name fits, and I bet she turns mushy when bathed in requited love, a bowl of cold milk to her crunchy goodness.
The day and discussion continues. It is hard but important. Through it all, she helps us. She makes us feel safe. She is a teddy bear, arms open, providing comfort and warmth.
To us, and to the girls. Throughout the day, she plays mama bear to her cubs, warning us not to harm those in her keep. What more could they ask for? What more could I ask for, for my cub? Nothing more.
When it is time for us to leave, I notice as she makes her way around the room, shaking hands, hugging. I see how she shows just how special she feels each and every person is. It isn’t just a platitude. I believe that she believes, truly believes what she says, what she obviously feels. About a collection of total strangers, really.
Finally, it is my turn. We hug goodbye. It’s a long, solid hug full of meaning. The hug lasts just seconds, but will last forever.
And so I leave my cub temporarily in her hands. In the hands of a house mother; a glowing sun; an overflowing garden of goodness; a living, breathing soul; Vitamin water personified; a teddy bear; a mama bear—Special K. I am thrilled to have met her. And I am eternally grateful to her for looking after someone I love.