Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Accidental Salad

"Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive."                               -- Anais Nin

I met Katie five years ago.  I knew as soon as I met her that she would be a friend.  She was sunlight and smiles, radiance and light.  She was to be a babysitter so I didn't think I would be around her too much but I knew my children would be delighted any time they saw Katie.  (Turns out that we always found a way to talk and talk when I got home -- what a shocker!) She took care of Caroline for me as she finished her last year at UC Davis.  At the time, we were remodeling our house and I often would give her Mission Impossible babysitting jobs and she would rise to the challenge. I would find her dancing to music upstairs, sweating and laughing while Caroline jumped on an old mattress on the ground.  Caroline went on stroller rides and long walks all over town.  Together they picnicked, played, pranced and power-housed their way through a year.  Patrick was always a welcome partner in crime and one of my favorite Katie memories was pulling up and finding not just Patrick, Katie and Caroline doing cartwheels on the front lawn but a reticent newly minted teen-ager, Mary Kate, as well.  Seeing the crowd cartwheel across the lawn made me want to cartwheel too.  I found myself in sweet smelling grass laughing and realizing the power of living carefree.  Katie knows how to have fun and her infectious zest for life makes you want to have fun too.

Two sunflower beauties!
At Katie's graduation from college, I had the joy of meeting her parents.  All year long I carried the feeling of being rewarded the fruits of their hard work and the incredible gift of having their daughter in my daily life.  I was so grateful to meet them and thank them for sharing their dear daughter.  As she took off on new adventures, we waved good-bye and promised to write.  Oregon and grad school became her routine.  Soon it was wedding planning and the question of Caroline's interest in being a flower girl.

The quick answer: "Oh yes!"
During the wedding, Patrick made a friend or I should say: met an agent. Steve, the DJ at the wedding and a great friend to both the bride and groom, facilitated a moment at the wedding where Patrick could sing to the newly married couple.  It became one of those classic wedding moments with the couple dancing in a circle of onlookers with little children dancing at their feet.  I ended up beginning a conversation with Steve that turned into a job offer. And just like that, Steve became Patrick's aide at school and a cherished part of our daily life.  Amazing! Best of all, Katie and Bryan were moving back to Davis and we could see them on a regular basis.

This entire year, I relished the good fortune of having such amazing people in my neighborhood.  Katie and I took up knitting together on Monday nights in the fall.  We laughed at the foibles of learning something new.  We traded dog stories since we each had mischievous puppies.  We read each other's blogs and made comments (yay!). We went on walks with our dogs, met for lunch and had the joy that comes with a friend moving back home.  It was a comfy, cozy needed no hard work or extra energy.  We were happy just to see each other and hear the latest details of our lives.  Katie made cupcakes with Caroline after preschool; she played with Patrick; she encouraged us as we entered the fray of college applications and rejoiced with Jack at his graduation party.  Just a few weeks ago, she played flashlight tag on a hot July night with my kids and some friends...laughing and giggling the whole time.

And just like that, this year is over.  Katie got a job as a high school English teacher in her hometown a few hours away and she leaves August 1st.  Our daily/weekly friendly dose of Katie (and dear Bryan) will turn into a monthly or quarterly dose.  And, those of us with any life experience know that the dose will move to a yearly or whenever we can do it dose soon after that.  That radiance will be rarer and rarer for me but a joy and a light for her family and her new students.  Life makes its twists and turns and we must move on.

So, when Katie came over for lunch this past week it was bittersweet.  She brought a basket full of goodies to help me say good-bye to Jack (and the underlying acceptance of saying good-bye to her as well).  We were talking and visiting and Jack came in and made the most delicious looking salad out of thin air.  Katie and I were entranced with the colors and the beauty and the simplicity so we copied Jack: picked tomatoes out of the garden, used up the tiny mozzarella balls that were randomly in our fridge, found the oversized radish that Caroline chose at the grocery store because it was a great color, cut up the carrots with the green tops for our bunny and laid it on a bed of arugula.

It was accidental this salad and yet stunning, delicious and beautiful.  It had no menu or recipe or any planning.  It just came together in a natural, easy way. Just like my friendship with Katie.  I'm 20 years older than Katie.  I wasn't looking for a friend when we found each other.  It just happened in the easiest, nicest way.  This unlikely friendship became a gift to myself and I cherished it.

Now, I must say good-bye.

So...dear friend, thank you.  Thank you for the beauty of yourself: honest, radiant, curious, carefree and living life with a big open heart. My accidental salad will be forever with me.  My time with you loving my kids is logged into my heart's memory.  Laughing in the doorway, solving the world's problems at the kitchen table or watching Maggie and Buddy romp in the backyard will be the moments I miss.

I will miss you -- it's a simple as that.

I'm ending with a quote from Wicked, just for you, Katie:

"...You'll be with me
Like a handprint on my heart.
And now whatever way our stories end,
I know you have re-written mine
By being my friend...
Who can say if I've been changed for the better
But because I knew you
I have been changed for good."

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Heed My Words

"The golden moments in the stream of life rush past us and we see nothing but sand; the angels come to visit us, and we only know them when they are gone."  -- George Elliot

The Forakers are doing a drive.  A multi-hour, grueling, boring drive with four kids and two adults who are all sleep deprived, sick of fast food and frankly ready for their own toilets and their own beds and in that order.  The term "weary traveller" becomes dear to me and I try to envision the Good Samaritan, the settlers who traversed the Great Plains and every immigrant that has ever made his way to our beloved country and hold them close.  It's not that bad, I tell myself...we're on a vacation...those people were changing their very lives.  Still, I feel a kinship with them.

We stop in Bakersfield, California.  It's not a tourist destination in any sense of the word.  Actually, no offense to native Bakersfield-types, but it's a place to try to avoid.  It's hot, flat and pretty dull.  It has the dust of agriculture floating in the air.  It has the scent of a town that shoulda, coulda, woulda done something great but just never did.  It makes me say to my kids who've been confined in the car for hours already: "This is a fast stop.  Let's get it all done quick and we're back on the road."

Mary Kate needs something that McDonald's just isn't going to have so we wander next door to Harry's Market which is a gas station and a convenience store and peruse the shelves for feminine protection.  The hunt isn't going well.  We find something that will work and then decide to use candy as our cover.  We buy a candy bar for every family member, throw in some gum for good measure and we plop it all in front of an innocuous looking cashier.  Hoping to be casual, we both avoid eye contact and so I notice what the cashier was reading: a pink-tinged newspaper written in arabic.

"Is this your daughter?" the cashier asks.

Forced from my eye avoidance I look up to find a gentle, kind and hypnotic pair of eyes.  I try to categorize them in my mind in milliseconds...are they hazel?  They seem to be cafe au lait sprinkled with Tinkerbell green glitter and suddenly I want to stare at them linger.

"Yes, this is my daughter."

"She's taller than you."

I smile.  "Yes, she is. Quite a bit taller than me actually."

"She's going to keep growing." He looks at me, pointedly...suddenly a sooth-sayer, no longer a cashier.

"Most likely." I laugh.  "You should see her brother."

The cashier/fortune teller is not side-tracked.  "I have three daughters." he reveals and suddenly I can feel his parental delight.  Instantly, I know that they are grown and that he is immeasurably proud.

"Congratulations.  How old are they?" I ask curious about the eyes, the wisdom behind them, the stories they can tell.

"19, 21 and 24.  They are all in the medical field."

"Wonderful!  My daughter is hoping to be a nurse."  As usual, I over share, and Mary Kate is cringing.

And that was the secret code that unlocked the door...without regard to time or to customers waiting or to this place we are in, wisdom comes pouring out like a waterfall:

"I knew a lady who was 67 years old when her husband died.  He died on their way to Lake Arrowhead.  She asked herself, What am I going to do now?  And do you know what she did? She went to medical school.  First she went to college to finish her degree and then she went to medical school and became a doctor -- 67 years old.  She is a doctor right here, down the street.  She is in her 90's now and no one can take that away from her.  She is a doctor."

He turns his spell-binding gaze on Mary Kate and she didn't have a chance.  She had to look him straight in the eye.

"You can cut your arm off.  You can have a husband and then lose him and lose all of your money but if you have this (he points to his brain and taps it) you have everything. No one can take it away from you." "Education is what you need.  You don't need any boyfriends.  You don't need anything but this (and he taps again)."

I look at Mary Kate and smile.  She smiles too but it's the smile of being polite.  She is going with it but she isn't sure at all where it's headed.

"Education is everything."

My sixteen year old daughter who thinks she needs a boyfriend, fantasizes about fashion and romance and blows off all adults she lives with actually pauses.  She nods.  She lets it sink in.

We have to get going.  Midnight strikes and the slippers melt away.  We are back with the pumpkins and mice.  I ask this man his name..."Singh" he says and smiles.  I shake his hand.  I feel his kindness permeate my skin and this weary traveller is mesmerized for one last time in the river of those eyes.

"Thank you so much." I pause.  I want to tell him how much he has helped.  How influential a stranger's words can be.  How his name will go into the archives of Foraker Family roadtrips...but how? How do you thank someone for their little rest stop on a weary road? How do you thank someone for the grace they sprinkled with their kindness and care?

I walk out with a black plastic bag full of candy and goosebumps on my arms.  An angel named Singh entered unannounced.  We almost missed him.  As we walked out the door I looked at Mary Kate.  She knew it too. Singh calls to us both, pointing at us he commands: "Heed my words!"

Singh, you have no idea.

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Power of Going For It

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage."
              -- Anais Nin

I've been watching Caroline learn to swim this summer.  She has been fearless! She swims in a thirteen foot deep pool, alongside a whole host of kids and even some college swimmers.  She jumps in and with a breathtaking fearlessness she goes for it.  She leaves nothing back.  She swims without grace, without expertise, without beauty but she if willing the water to stop her.  She thrashes and splashes and somehow makes it out to her swim coach.  When she needs a breath she pops her head straight up, gulps that oxygen and then back to the thrashing she goes. The other day, she took a running start and dove into the pool!  Incredible to watch and can you imagine doing it? In her mind, she's a swimmer and that is the secret.  She doesn't know she can't.  She isn't pausing and thinking about it.  She's not noticing the depth.  She believes she can and so she can.

Watching this fearlessness each day of the summer has made me look a little closer at my own life.  When was the last time I was fearless?  When have I attacked something with such passion and zeal that I couldn't possibly stop halfway? When did I go for it and not look back?  I have been out of my comfort zone for sure but I have to admit that I haven't been thrashing and splashing in new waters for quite sometime. I begin to look at my daily life without one of my favorite people in it, I'm going to be thinking of Caroline.  I'm going to have to splash and thrash and not notice the depth.  I'm going to have to go for it and embrace something new.  I'm going to have to expand my world and not shrink it.  I have a great example to little fish!  If she can swim, so can I.