One Question To Ask When the Going Gets Tough

On my first day of kindergarten, my mom gave me some advice.

She told me what her mother told her on the first day of school: when you walk through the doors, don’t worry about making friends. Just focus on finding the girl who looks even more upset about all this than you do. Go over to her and say hello. Smile. Then, you’ll have a friend.

My five-year-old-self was incredulous. Could it be that simple? With a little prompting, I gave it a shot. I walked up to a weeping girl and said, “Hi, I’m Caroline. What’s your name?”

With that, I made my first school friend. It was a serendipitous choice, since she was (is) an excellent visual artist. Back then, I could barely cut in a straight line — OK, that’s still true! — so she’d help me with arts and crafts. She didn’t like to write, so I’d help her with compositions. We saw each other through.

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Wherever I Go: An Open Letter to L’Arche

L’Arche* friends, I miss walking beside you through the world.

I miss holding your hand, Cassandra**, and how your fingernails always dug into my skin. Holding on tight helped you to balance, so I’d leave them there until I had to — ever so gently — pry them away.

We’d re-grip, but a few steps later, your nails would dig in again. I’d sigh, maybe, but mostly I wouldn’t mind the crescent moons left behind. They were imprints of trust.

You’d ask me to take you out … for tea, for sweets, for a break from routine. Because life was too short to be diligent all the time, because teatime is a chance to slow down and enjoy.

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Supper at L'Arche

A Supper at L’Arche. Photo Credit: Brian A. Taylor Photography

I miss pushing you, Pedro, in your wheelchair … which, of course, you’d insist with great volume and intensity that you did not need. To your great dismay, I’d pull the chair along anyway. We’d go less than a hundred yards before you’d turn to me, ready to rest. I’d help you buckle in, and never say I told you so.

Though it could be stressful at times, I love that you always wanted to leave that wheelchair behind. You, with your indomitable spirit, always believed you could walk the whole way … just as I always thought I wouldn’t need to bring an extra layer of clothing when I always, always did.

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I miss pushing your wheelchair too, Miguel; I miss hearing the sound of your contented, buzzing purr. I’d see you looking around and beaming peace on everyone. You, who spent so much time indoors, never took the outdoors for granted.

I remember how you’d notice things at the margins, things the rest of us wouldn’t see … the bums sitting on the sidewalk, the brown chickadees fluttering around an abandoned pizza crust.

You’d go to Starbucks every Monday, and fill up the room with your quiet gladness. You’d extend your hand to everyone. One man refused to shake, once, and it was his loss. You drew your hand back, confused, undaunted.

***

I miss walking down to McDonald’s with you, Leo. Truth be told, I can’t stand McDonald’s, but I have a soft spot for it because of you. You’d make your daily pilgrimage, shuffling slowly. Such a pace meant more time to take notice; you once said you liked the scent of autumn leaves as they fell from the trees.

Whenever I’d see you walking alone, I’d be struck by your vulnerability. You’d go out into a world that doesn’t always understand your speech, your story. Every day, you’d show up for your life. You didn’t let fear hold you back; you’d get up to speak in front of a crowd even though you had terrible stage fright.

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I miss walking beside you, Theresa, watching you hunt for pennies. Your patience was marvelous, and never more so than on the day I came to pick you up at the airport.

It was late and we were tired, but you didn’t give me a hard time when I couldn’t remember where I’d parked the car. Instead, you walked with me through the parking decks for what seemed like forever. When we finally came upon the old L’Arche van, we jumped for joy.

On ordinary days, we’d walk along, you talking to yourself aloud, me talking to myself in silence, companionable. We’d hold hands, stopping only for glimmers of gold, pennies on the sidewalk.

***

Passing the candle after supper. Photo credit: Brian A. Taylor Photography

Passing the candle after supper. Photo credit: Brian A. Taylor Photography

I miss being able to walk beside you. But don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten.

Because of you, I slow down and listen; I write down my parking spots.

I notice the flutter of the chickadees, feasting on crumbs.

I greet strangers, because when I do, I see you in their smiles.

I bring an extra layer, even though I really believe I won’t need it.

I treat myself to a cup of tea in the afternoons.

And most of all, I show up for my life.

We may be separated by distance, but really, that’s about it.

You are with me wherever I go.

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Who is with you wherever you go? Join the conversation in the comments!

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Fed up with an ‘impossible’ person? Tired of a situation that may never change?

Pick up my new Kindle* Single, I Was a Stranger to Beauty (ThinkPiece Publishing).

*If you don’t have a Kindle, don’t worry! You can use Amazon’s (free) Kindle Cloud Reader.

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*L’Arche (French for ‘The Ark’) is a faith-based non-profit that creates homes where people with and without intellectual disabilities share life together. I worked with the DC community for 5 years.

**All names have been changed.