This word makes me happy. Not because I’m a giant fan of tomato soup (I LOVE me some tomato soup), but because the last time I had soup I was sitting across from a dear friend. Actually, it was the very friend who gave me today’s word. I don’t know why she chose this word but I want her to know that if anyone else had suggested the word “soup” that I would have ended up writing about her. Ain’t life funny?
Her name is Valerie. I’ve known her for a really long time. We went to school together. Valerie was brave enough to come along on one of our annual pilgrimages to South Carolina for my mom’s family reunion. She willingly accepted the challenge of riding in a car for hours on end through not-so-fun states and dealing with the fast-paced and slurred-together dialect of my southern relatives. Honestly. It gets to the point where you can’t try to understand any longer. You just do your best to keep up and laugh when they laugh and anxiously await the opportunity to run like hell when there’s a break in conversation. Or, you can always shout out “the cornbread’s fixin’ to burn” (preferably prefaced by “Lord Almighty!) while running away at top speed. A true Southerner will understand. Anyway, Valerie saved my sanity on that trip. I am grateful for her dedication to our friendship to endure what she did that week. She was briefly rewarded with a day trip to Myrtle Beach where we spied on super cute guys. We were teenagers, after all, and that’s what young girls do. That trip remains a very sweet memory of mine.
Valerie and I had similar interests (besides spying on super cute guys). We both liked photography. We both enjoyed music. We listened to the Doors over and over and over again. But then, of course, we grew up and went our separate ways, as dear old friends sometimes do. I like to think this happens to dear old friends like us because it makes the reunion so much sweeter. I hadn’t seen Valerie in a long time and when she suggested that we get together for a brief moment while I was in town two weeks ago, I couldn’t wait. This latest trip to Ohio wasn’t really a “visit with friends” trip, I had a lot of personal stuff to take care of (as well as see Peter in concert, which will ALWAYS be a priority!) but I needed to see Valerie and meet her twelve-year-old son, Michael.
I’m always stunned by how little we truly change despite the incredible circumstances we find ourselves in. Valerie was always even keeled on the surface but she had a delicious helping of “quirky” on the side. I know that’s why I was originally drawn to her. And when we reconnected two weeks ago, I was pleased to see that her delightful sense of humor was still intact. See, Valerie’s son is disabled. Now, I’m sorry to say that I don’t know the exact nature of his disability or what it’s called, but he is in a wheelchair. He cannot communicate verbally. He still eats baby food. He’s beautiful. And watching my dear old friend as she loved her little boy was awe inspiring. Her gentleness. Her grace. Her love. It all shone brighter than sunshine.
Despite my having been through health challenges with my son over the past several years I cannot even begin to imagine the pressure and exhaustion that Valerie faces every moment of every day. There were times during Ben’s illness when I shut myself in a closet or stepped out of earshot to scream my head off over being so angry about what my son was going through. Valerie cannot leave her son alone for any length of time. I take for granted the things that Ben CAN do. Ben will more than likely live to become a young man. Hopefully he’ll go to college. Get married. Have the opportunity to live his own life. I get so wrapped up in the fact that he had cancer and what bad thing might be coming his way next. And I’m an idiot for that. My kid has a pretty solid shot at normalcy. Yes, our situation has had some sucky moments, but I cannot let that overshadow the beauty we’ve seen in our lives. Valerie doesn’t. Oh, I’m sure she has total crap days. I’m sure she gets mad about her son’s disabilities. But to talk to her – no – to WATCH her with her son. It was out of this world. That boy might not ever be able to solve a mathematical equation but he does know that he is LOVED. How many of us truly know that without question? To watch as he turned up his face to his mom – his way of asking for a kiss – and to never be turned down by her, touched me in a way that I can’t explain.
The complexity of his disability was overshadowed by the simplicity of the way they communicated with one another. I honestly could have done nothing else but watch the two of them interact with each other. As I sat across from my dear old friend as she patiently picked up another dropped toy, or gave another kiss, or encouraged him to watch a movie so we could chat, well, there was nothing we needed to catch up on, really. I saw it all right there in front of me as I ate my bowl of soup. She was still funny. She was still loving. I was still drawn to her and her amazing talents, even if those talents were being used a bit differently than how I remembered them.
As I sat there, awestruck, my mind drifted back to the two girls laughing in the surf on a sunshiny day so many years ago. Looking for super cute guys to spy on. Not knowing what the future would hold for either one of us. And interestingly enough, still not knowing to this very day what tomorrow will bring and finding the courage to be okay with that.
We rock, sweet soul sister. I love you so very much.