About five years ago, my husband and I found ourselves in the thick of the weeds, adopting our son from Russia. Also around this same time, I stopped watching the news and reading the newspaper. I felt the truth, that what we put our attention on, is what we bring into our lives. Like everything else I put my mind to, I went about this with a vengeance. I read and followed positive Facebook groups, sought out new friendships with spiritually guided people, watched inspirational videos, and used my newfound time to just get quiet. This all served me well in the adoption process, for I did not dwell on horror stories, but the inspirational moments that can often come from opening your heart and home to a child in need. I thought about all I would teach my new son, guiding and loving him through those precious first few years.
When the questions arose throughout the adoption process, whether our son will be ok physically, mentally, emotionally or if he would fit in with our family, I simply placed them upon a shelf. With faith in my heart, we marched on, eventually carrying Drew across the threshold of our home at the tender age of eighteen months. As a new family of five, it turned out to be a whirlwind first few years filled with both joy and rough patches that took every ounce of energy to keep us on track. Over time, Drew was in all senses of the word, a typical average American boy. He liked cartoons, light up superhero sneakers, and macaroni and cheese. And yet, there was this one thing that was a bit different – Drew gravitated towards older people, about sixty years older. Maybe it was because older women raised him the first year of his life, or perhaps his whirlwind of a beginning in this world allowed him to never count anybody out in life. Either way, his heart was wide open, the day he met John.
Next door, John and his wife Peggy, had three kids of their own, grown and married. Drew began to ask to play with John, often wandering into their backyard. I would see John and Drew watering the plants together, looking in the woods for cool insects, and often wandering inside for a game of flashlight tag. Soon, requests to hang out with John became more regular. He would become excited, gather his army figures or trucks, and head off to John’s house as if it was all perfectly normal to have a best friend who was sixty. To Drew, John was simply a friend, the coolest friend he knew. I thought about my own friendships, how I loved them dearly, and yet how many, if not all, were just like me.
The friendship between Drew and John grew, illustrated by their spending hours mowing the lawn, walking the dog and simply, talking. Then came the summer when Drew turned 6. We were slotted to move with both an air of excitement and a heavy heart. Although we were only moving across town, it felt like the other side of the world. As the moving truck pulled away with our belongings, I felt a tug at my heart. A lot of effort would need to be made for their friendship to continue. “John’s going to come to our new house everyday,” Drew said with the light in his eyes. I looked away, not able to meet his gaze. I knew Drew loved John with all his heart, and I knew John liked him, but what I did not know was if the visits would continue. As a mother, you make decisions everyday that affect your children, you just never want one to them to break your child’s heart.
As we set out for the mountainous job of unpacking and becoming settled in, I tried to lift Drew’s spirits by pointing out the awesome new pinball machine, and how the woods around our house would be a great place to search for bugs. “I think John will love them,” Drew said. I sighed, and simply knew his feelings would fade over time. After all, the saying time heals all wounds speaks to an undeniable truth. The question of whether this friendship would continue, I put upon a shelf.
During the next few weeks Drew and his dad played in the woods, searching for fish in the stream, both coming home tired and dirty. It was sweet, and Drew loves his dad, but still, in his heart, I knew he missed his best friend. He missed John.
One morning soon after, I was sitting with a cup of coffee and sifting through my emails. I clicked on the address that was not familiar. One line stood in the middle of the page.
Would Drew like to come over and play? John.
My heart leapt, as I let out a huge breath I did not know I had been holding. It was then that I knew that this friendship was just as meaningful to John, as it was to Drew. Had it not been obvious the way their faces light up when they are around each other, each giving their hearts shamelessly, sharing in the same likes and interests. They were happy to just be with each other, as if a few miles could break that kind of bond. I smiled as my question came off the shelf, and vanished into thin air.
I thought back to all those hours I had spent dreaming about teaching Drew how to throw a ball and ride a bike. And here he was teaching me something of far greater importance. How we put restrictions on ourselves every day, and not only as parents but as human beings. My son has taught me that we need to discard our boundaries. We should not overlook dusty corners, out-of-the-way nooks and crannies for love and friendship. We need to change the route we always take home and say yes, when we always say no. Only then can we begin to become familiar with the scent of the energy, the hint of their heart, and the depths of a soul we may never have given a second glance. We can choose a quiet person to talk to, engage a homeless person, look into the eyes of a teenager with baggy pants and a hoodie tied snugly, and know that beneath his mask, he has a heart just like our own. Drew has taught me that life has no walls except the ones we erect.
I still receive the emails from John, and his friendship with Drew continues to this day. Drew is more than just a boy with a sixty-year-old best friend. He is my teacher. For he has shown me that if we don’t count anybody out, they may turn out to be someone who will get down on his knees and get dirty with us. It is time to break apart our well-crafted boxes. It is time we all change the channel.