Just a Boy and His Sixty-Year-Old Best Friend

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.

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My Forever Moment

My Forever Moment

En route to Yankee Stadium, I was involved in a head on collision with life. The day had begun like every other Saturday with coffee brewing, cartoons blaring, dog barking and teenagers sleeping through it all. Soon enough, we found ourselves humming along the Cross Bronx Expressway, the tires of our SUV mindlessly dipping and swerving between potholes. Stuffed in the back of the car, along with our children, were snacks, oversized bottles of water, and an air of excitement. My husband helped the radio dance between channels, finding the right song to keep the mood up beat, while I set up our lunch of chicken salad.

I glanced out the front windshield to assess the traffic, and that was when I saw him. Had I been thinking about my grocery list or wondering whether I had answered all my emails, I might have missed him. There, on the side of the road, stood a man. He was dirty and frail, his fingers gripping a sign, too sloppy to read. Car after car passed him by, their windows firmly closed, shutting out the possibility to make a connection. I do not judge them. Homeless people on the side of the road are as common as deer grazing suburban neighborhoods. I have walked by many myself. But this time, I noticed him. It seemed that my passion for introspection, meditation and spiritual teachings had made its mark. I needed to give this man something, anything.

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The contrast was not lost on me that through the open window, we handed him expensive, organic, health food store bought, chicken salad. Our worlds, this man and ours, were colliding, giving way to a shame that reddened my cheeks; a contrast so stark for all we had, and all he did not. Our eyes met. I felt his desperation pass through me as chills. The moment felt like forever. Through a toothless smile, he nodded in thanks. The entire interaction took less than 15 seconds, yet a moment I will remember forever.

After the game, exhausted and satisfied, we filed quietly into our home, plunging into the security of our warm beds. Everyone slept, except for me. I thought about the man. His face etched in my mind like the dirt beneath his fingernails. Where is he sleeping? Is he insane or just unlucky? How do we teach our children who have so many luxuries, to have compassion for those that have so little? Eventually sleep came, although it was restless.

The next morning, with a mouthful of syrup drenched, home made, pancakes, my son uttered, “Why did we give that man our food?” My forever moment continued.

As parents, we spend hours teaching our children right and from wrong, trying to find a balance between guiding, redirecting and reassuring. Some of what we say sticks, but most flies out the window. No sooner as the words leave our lips, our children are on to look at the next Instagram post or Facebook friend request. If the average attention span for the general population is now eight seconds, for children living in the technological age, it must be half that. Telling our children to “Clean up your room” has the same vibrational frequency as, “Say thank you and please.” Or, “Don’t be mean to anyone.” It all becomes white noise until that one moment in life where we act without thinking; that moment when life puts someone in our path to remind us that our actions mean more than words. And when it comes from the heart, it just sticks.

And these opportunities come every day, from all walks of life. Some are obvious, far reaching and heart wrenching, like 9/11. While others seem less obvious, as easy to miss as the holding of a door for the person behind you. But when we follow our own heart in everyday life, this penetrates deeply into the souls of our children. When we say no to an invitation because we are tired, we are teaching our children how to take care of themselves. Standing up to a friend who takes advantage, shows them what it means to have self-respect. Including others in our circle of life, regardless of where they go to University and what they do for a living. Speaking kindly to the waiter in a restaurant because he is as important as the financial advisor who invests our money – all expressions of unconditional love. And to be able to help someone in need because this is what generosity and compassion is all about.

Perhaps it was just chicken salad. Or maybe for a moment, this man felt like someone saw him; that he mattered. Maybe we all just want to know that we matter. When we see the beauty of the sun crying farewell tears against the nighttime sky, we feel something. But how often do we do this? We are all so busy; there is barely time to breathe. If we slow down, we will find we have endless opportunities to make a difference, to follow our heart because this is what we are supposed to do; this is how we are designed. There are so many forever moments, dressed up as ordinary life. And if we stop listening to the voices in our head, we will all hear our hearts.

I can still feel the deafening silence that circulated within our car after we drove away that day. I want to believe our children were taking in what occurred, and storing it in a part of their brain under how to live in this often perplexing, confusing and unfair world. Or maybe they felt it too, just an auspicious moment that held a greater importance than we all could ever understand.

I have always admired the road less travelled, but perhaps it does not matter what route you take as long as you bring your heart along for the ride.

An Angel in Disguise

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During an interview at work recently, I met a man, a very desperate man, who wanted to work for our small agency.

The interview began just as any other. Introductions were made and work history was reviewed, while the critical analysis of his appearance, age and his general fit was swimming around my subconscious.

In general, candidates tell you things you are not supposed to ask, so I simply nodded when he offered up the information that he has a wife and two children. But when he added that he was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis five years ago, that life has certainly handed him some challenges, I was unprepared for what happened next. Like a light bulb that blows unexpectedly when you turn on a switch, I was surprised when he began to cry.

Feeling a lump growing in my throat, I tried to ignore it. But events that come unexpectedly, especially ones that change your life, have an undeniable, underlying truth that cannot be swallowed away. It seemed that my years of soul-searching, meditating and determination to make a difference in others’ lives, came smack up against my hardened professionalism in the world of business.

My inner and outer worlds were about to crumble together in one heaping pile of tears. My heart began to speak over my head, and I found myself asking him how he managed with his plate so full. How he sounded like an amazing father with the strength to move mountains. I knew I stumbled upon not just a man, a body who needed a job, but a soul with an open heart, who was suddenly touching mine.

Through his tears, he voiced how he could not understand why nobody has given him a chance. That he was a good person and a hard worker. That being out of work for over a year was chipping away at his self esteem.

As I took a breath, I could no longer deny how I was immeasurably touched by his vulnerability. I wanted to toss my pen and paper, and reach out and hug him, thank him for his openness. I wanted to explain to him that most people who interview for a job, have created a hard professionalism, surrounding their heart with armour. They think there is a “right way” to go on an interview, and too often, it is an act, an image thrown out at an employer, fooling them into hiring a drone, one seemingly without a heart.

But life is not exactly like the movies, so I did not hug him, or give him a high-five. I simply allowed the shift inside myself to settle. And awareness came to the forefront of my mind. Life has thrown this man so many curve balls that he has forgotten how to hold up his shield, put on his mask.

Nobody had hired him, despite his good experience. Perhaps, they were afraid—their own armor snugly in place. I do not judge. It is just an observation, because that was me. In my professional life as a recruiter, I interviewed thousands of people, all with my heart deeply buried. I checked them each off my list like they were pieces of scrap metal and I was the junkyard dog. And I got paid a lot of money.

But somewhere over the course of my soul-searching, I must have woken up. And when we wake up, life gives us beautiful gifts disguised as reminders, teachers and messengers—to confirm we are on the right path. Intuitively, I knew why this man was sitting in front of me. A gentle soul, he was there to teach me to listen to my heart. To tell me that I am on the right path, that it is my mission to show others how we all need to bring our hearts back into our businesses.

It is time we start merging our outer and inner lives. To not wait until somebody shows up at the office with a gun or for terrorists who tear apart our families, shaking the foundation of our lives, to wake up and listen to one another. To allow our vulnerability and hearts to remain open, whether we are pouring coffee, selling commodities or creating websites.

After all, it is all too easy to let our hearts open in the safety of a dark movie theater or beneath the security of our blankets at night. But how does this look in real life? What about in those hard to reach places like behind a desk? What if we all began to merge this outer and inner life? To ask the person making our coffee at our local hang out how he is doing, and mean it. Instead of cursing them out silently, to see another who is complaining, as someone who needs more understanding and love, not less.

If we stop trying so hard to look a certain way, and turn inward to how we feel, might we all breathe a little easier? There are teachers and messengers everywhere we go, reminding us, we are all here to open our hearts more, and feeling is simply human. This man who sat in front of me was not just another resume, but a check mark in the employment box of life; a yes in favor of humanity.

I hired this gentle soul. I look forward to all he has to teach me, for he is truly, an angel in disguise

 

You Matter

YOU MATTER

YOU MATTER HEART

How do we reach our children sooner before they act out, making threats on the walls of our high school to harm other students?

We learned this weekend, that our town is not immune to the potential for our children to be put in this unfortunate, terrible situation. Perhaps we were lucky – we were warned. But how much pain does a child have to be in to resort to violence against other students? How much does a child feel like they just don’t matter. Some resort to drugs, alcohol, eating disorders, cutting, suicide – inflicting their pain on themselves. Others turn their emotions outward, hurting others.

So much of it is out of our control, which is the scariest piece for a parent. The only thing we can do is hug our children, and tell them that they are loved and they matter. And think about how we can reach our children sooner, before they get to their breaking point. They are under so much pressure to succeed, but maybe they just want to know that they matter and are loved.

If you are reading this and have felt like you don’t matter, please know that you do matter. You are important and loved no matter what you have thought or done. You matter even if it seems like others do not have time for you. It does not matter if you are a bully or have been bullied. If you get A’s or F’s. If you are popular or introverted. It does not matter what you look like or how much you weigh or how many friends you have – you matter. And if you feel like you want to harm yourself or someone else, please just tell someone. Because YOU MATTER.