A perfect moment of joy between friends

Brandon has a friend at school whom he adores. This other little boy, who I'll call Dennis, kinda reminds me of Dennis the Menace, but in the best possible way - we really like him. He also seems to get Brandon like no one else. They've been in the same class for three years, and they've been mostly inseparable for the past two years.

Dennis has been out from time to time this school year - I think his family must be having one of those cursed years of one sickness after another after another. (I really feel for them on this!) On one occasion, he returned to school the same day Brandon asked me to pick him up early. I was able to get him early, but I found out later that Brandon had a really hard time leaving Dennis behind. He wanted to be with me, but he didn't want to miss a single minute of his friend being back. He actually got teary-eyed when he hugged Dennis goodbye. They have a really sweet and special relationship.

Brandon often comes home telling me plans that he and Dennis have made. We take them with a grain of salt. If moms or dads haven't been in touch, there aren't any actual plans. But a couple weeks ago the boys decided they were going to meet at the school playground to play after dinner. Matt picked Brandon up, heard the plan, and was able to take him at the time they said. Dennis wasn't there. 

A week later, I was doing pickup. Once again, a plan had been made. But I had a work commitment and I told Brandon I wasn't sure we'd make it back in time. He went with me, helped me, and I rushed to finish so we could get back to the school as soon as possible. We were 15 minutes late and Dennis was once again not there. 

While Brandon and I rushed to get to the school, I called Matt and begged him to meet me at the school so I could go home and change out of the shirt I spilled chipotle sauce all over (I was a literal hot mess). He met us, as promised, as we were walking back to the car and offered to stay with Brandon so he could play even though Dennis wasn't there. I got about 20 feet away, heading back to my car, when Matt called out to me.

I turned around and saw Brandon running for all his might toward Dennis, who was running just as eagerly to hug his friend. 

Their faces radiated happiness and their little bodies practically vibrated with joy. 

Even though I didn't have a camera ready, that image is etched in my brain as one of the sweetest things I've ever seen. 

Later, I found out that Dennis had to work pretty hard to convince his parents to let him go and I'm so thankful they humoured him.

The stories that come out of schools about mean kids and bullying (even some of what Brandon has experienced) can make us sad, depressed, and angry.

But those aren't the only stories, thank goodness. There are stories of kids who meet and form a bond that has the potential to last if life circumstances work in their favour. Whatever happens, I hope these boys will always remember the years of their friendship as happy times growing up knowing they have a friend to lean on no matter what.

Smile, because you aren't wearing braces anymore.

Matt and I took this week off to spend time going through the piles of accumulated junk in our house. We’re purging, cleaning and organizing our little butts off. Today, in particular, we gutted our home office and started the process of going through boxes that have barely been touched since we moved in.

I happen to be a fairly sentimental type and I keep things that mean something to me. Sometimes they are reminders of the really amazing friends I’ve had throughout my life.

When I opened one box, I knew I’d be spending a while examing its contents. It was filled with cards, letters and notes from people I’ve known - mostly as a teenager and into my early twenties. There was one note that hurt to read - though not as much as when I received it. My relationship with the authors had changed and I don’t think it ever fully recovered back then. Now that we’re all adults, the memories of those times have faded and I see the people they have become and I’m glad I’ve restored contact even though our paths diverged in life.

I kept the note. It doesn’t have the power to hurt me that it did back then. But it taught me today that nothing is insurmountable.

What was overwhelmingly obvious was that I have had many people in my life who appreciated and cared about me - even if they were only a part of my life for a short time. I saw names that I no longer remember saying beautiful things to and about me. Piles of birthday cards and Christmas cards from my (then) teenaged friends. I don’t remember doing Christmas cards for my friends, but maybe I did.

There was one note that stuck out above all the rest. There is no name, but it was clearly written by a boy in one of my classes. I think I know who wrote it, but there are 3-4 possibilities, so I’m not 100% sure. It was a note passed to me in class. And it had to have been in 10th grade*, though there is no date. This note made me smile and I couldn’t resist sharing it:

Hey Karen, what’s up? How are you? Why do you seem so depressed lately?

Me: I don’t know exactly. I just haven’t been very happy with anything.

Smile, because you aren’t wearing braces anymore.

Me: That really won’t help any.

So?

Indeed.

I often forget how blessed I’ve been by friends throughout my life. This friend just wanted me to smile. He cared enough about my state of mind to work at coaxing it from me when I wasn’t willing.

I hope I smiled when I got this note like I am as I read it again nearly 18 years later.

I think I’ll keep this note, too.

*****

*My braces were removed two weeks into my 10th grade year. I walked into classes late that day, smiling wide as one of the guys yelled out, “Do your teeth feel like snot?” And all the kids who’d had braces laughed because, yes, they did.

I don't love Facebook; I just like what it's done for me

I live approximately 1,500 miles from my hometown, Tallahassee, Florida. All my family still live in the U.S. and I don’t get to see them nearly as much as I’d like. I left behind a lifetime’s worth of friendships that are hard to maintain over time and distance.

Just when I thought I’d probably never see or hear from my long distance friends, along comes Facebook and my friends list exploded overnight. 

I joined Facebook in summer of 2007. At first, I really didn’t use it much. I had one friend - the person who invited me - for quite a while. After making my first connection with someone I hadn’t seen in years, I began to see the value of this thing called Facebook. I started seeking people out - searching for names of people I hadn’t seen since high school, wanting to know where they were and what they were doing, how their lives were going.

There were two people I was almost desperate to reconnect with. But every attempt to find them was fruitless, either because the search results were so abundant that I didn’t have a prayer of a chance of picking the right one, or because they hadn’t signed up to the time-sucking vampire that is Facebook.

It turns out that, among my oldest friends, I was the early-adopter of this particular social media addiction. The first of the two people I was eagerly waiting to hear from popped up about a year after I joined. Dawn and I lost touch because of email address changes and technology fails in the form of lost data. Her first message to me was, “You have a child!” That made me smile, even though it was sad that I didn’t get to share that news with her a lot sooner. Dawn was a very dear friend I met when we both showed up to our first studio class in the same jacket. We were both voice students in the music education program at Florida State University. We bonded over our identical jackets and eventually shared many classes together - the best being grad student Tracy’s Music Theory class.

The second person I was anxious to find on Facebook finally showed up last week. She and I spent our last five years in school together. We met in 8th grade when she came to my school new. We were both sort of anomolies - she was the new student and I was the home-schooled student who came for band. (Yeah, I was a band nerd like that.) We were BFFs through all four years of high school. She was a majorette and I was on the flag corps. We had lively and respectful discussions about our differing beliefs during our many sleepovers - as well as a few fairly embarrassing writing sessions. (I hope we burned those notebooks so our kids don’t get their hands on them.)

When I saw her name pop up on my news feed on Facebook, I wanted to do cartwheels. It has been almost 10 years since we had any contact and I’ve missed her very much. I’m so happy to have her back in my life again. Every attempt I made to find her previously was unsuccessful, but I knew we’d cross paths somehow, someday.

Facebook gets a lot of flack - and rightly so - for it’s cavalier attitude about privacy and not knowing how to make things opt-in instead of opt-out. But I can’t regret that I’m on there, nor will I delete my account anytime soon. Because, to me, it’s too valuable to be able to connect with people who are dear to me on a regular basis in the small ways that I get to connect with them on Facebook. Several of my family members are on there now as well and that’s been so exciting for me.

Certain people wonder why I love blogging and social media as much as I do. Well, this is a huge part of why I love it and am so involved in it. It’s all about the connections I can maintain with people I don’t get to see anymore. For me, Facebook and my blog in particular have significantly decreased the distance I feel from my loved ones and I hope they feel closer to me as well.

So, what about you? What do you get from social networks you’re involved in? 

December 25 – Photo – a present to yourself (#reverb10)

December 25 – Photo – a present to yourself. Sift through all the photos of you from the past year. Choose one that best captures you; either who you are, or who you strive to be. Find the shot of you that is worth a thousand words. Share the image, who shot it, where, and what it best reveals about you. (Author: Tracey Clark)

It’s not easy to find pictures of me. Especially ones that I think reflect who I am. Often our personal photos are mostly about centered around Brandon. Our family. Not necessarily showcasing one individual - unless it’s Brandon.

However, I’ve had the chance to do some things this year that were all about me and my personal interests/goals. As part of one particular project, I and several of my friends had the irresistable opportunity to be photographed by an amazingly talented photographer, Kym Shumsky, who is in the midst of her Le Mein project - photographing 100 strangers. What an undertaking, especially when you consider that in a 10 minute time span, she connects with you. For me, it happened in about 10 seconds.

I sat down and Kym said, “Who are five people you want to meet in heaven?”

I immediately began to tear up, because my first thought was my mother. It took me a few minutes to be able to verbalize that, and all the while she was snapping my picture. It was unnerving and I felt exposed. Raw. Uncomfortable. Vulnerable. All the while she was telling me how beautiful the pictures would be.

When I first saw my pictures, I felt very nervous and insecure about them going on the Le Mien site. They were hard for me to look at and love. Until I realized that I was looking at myself - my real self - for the first time. I wasn’t wearing a mask or pretending for a camera. I was me in the most complete sense.

Photo Credit: Kym Shumsky (Relishing.ca)The picture that was hardest for me to love is this one - the one in which I imagine myself explaining about the loss of my mother to this complete stranger - who somehow was no longer a stranger - within minutes of talking with her for the first time. I can see me straining to breath normally and stop the tears from falling.

This year I was challenged repeatedly to step out of my comfort zone, try new things or stretch myself beyond what I’ve tried to do before.

Throughout the process I’ve grown as a person; hopefully in mostly positive ways. The biggest challenge for me has been to open up to new possibilities and new relationships. To tear down walls I’ve had up for years.

Allowing myself to open up makes me as vulnerable as I felt in the moment this picture was taken, but I know it’s worth it because the reward of being a friend to someone is so fulfilling.