Sunday, November 10, 2013

On sunrooms and courtyards

“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: "What! You too? I thought that no one but myself . . ."”

-C.S. Lewis

It is an early Sunday morning and my sweet son stands in his crib, asking for his Yizzy. "Where did she go?"  "Where is she?" He repeats this earnestly, his nose pressed against mine, in hopes that if he asks enough times, she will magically appear. Two-year olds are good at never giving up on hope. They are also remarkably good at sussing out the innately good people from the not-so-good.

Not to be deterred by his quest to find his Yizzy, he then suggests going "to the sunroom" - he is convinced she lives there (I mean, in all seriousness, who wouldn't?), and will often come downstairs in the morning, expecting to see her in the sunroom, where his toys are and his memories are made, and where the sun comes in just at the moment it is most needed. It's a pretty magical place. I assure him that we will see her at school, and he seems okay with that...until we drive home again in the evening: "Yizzy in the sunroom?" It is almost a daily occurrence.

At school, all of the girls - my high school students - want his attention, which is equal parts endearing and also overwhelming for a little boy surrounded by so many big girls, all of whom know HIM, but few to which he can put a name to a face. He is slow to warm to most people (excepting one sophomore who was his first CRUSH and who had him at hello), but once you are firmly in his circle, you have his heart completely.

And then there is Lizzy.

Lizzy (aka Liz, aka Elizabeth, aka Lizzy Lou, aka Lizard...) came into our lives a few short months ago. She has a laugh that is contagious- it brings a kind of immediate joy to your heart that leaves you in a better mood for the rest of the day.  She has an understated and very mature ease about her that really does force you to stop what you're doing and just sort of marvel at the thoughtfulness and warmth with which she interacts with her world, despite some of the reasons why she may not feel so joyous at times. We all have our stories, and hers has been hard.

In the traditional sense, she is my student and I, her teacher...but oftentimes, it feels the other way around. And reflexively, she has become family to us in ways that make one thankful for the small miracles that turn into bigger ones over time.  It took no effort on her part to work her way deep into my heart, and very little effort to win the affections of Ezra, who looks to her as his own personal lighthouse - the person with whom he connects at school in the mornings, who makes him feel safe, who plays ball with him and teaches him funny faces. She is the person he clamors to see when we go to school, SHE is the person who understands that he likes being spoken to directly, without the high-pitched sing-song that so many of the girls lovingly use to greet him. She gets him. Without fanfare, she has won his whole heart, not on the level of crush, but almost on the level of older sibling. "HIS Yizzy" - this declaration of possession - is akin to saying that she is of his tribe, his people, and that means something so much more.

For me, she is as much a piece of my soul as anyone else in my life. It is more often than not that when in the same room, we have the same response to a question someone has asked, to the point that one student laughingly noted "You two are like the same person!" She can read my mood in a second, and knows when to make me laugh, and when to give a hug - these are things that most adults fail to do, so it is especially rare that a teenager with so much happening in her own life steps so seamlessly out of her orbit to offer her presence in mine.  And she has allowed me into her life too, which is no simple task. To express one's heartaches and struggles is rarely a painless process and it hasn't been easy for her. Sometimes these moments are born due to the person with whom one is sharing, and sometimes it is about the setting: sitting in the courtyard of our school one afternoon, she shared some of the challenges she faces, and we sat in the perfect sunlight, with the perfect trees against a perfectly blue sky, and somehow even the hardest of struggles seemed better articulated, and more authentically felt in that snapshot of, well, perfection. 

And we realize that these are struggles we can face. And we can overcome them, too. Sometimes it just takes a courtyard or a sunroom to realize this beautiful truth.

More often than not, it has to do with the members of that selected tribe we cull together, those special individuals who fit into the patterns of light and shadow that dance in our sunrooms and courtyards. These are the people who teach us about the wide expanse of family and what it really means. Thank you, Lizzy, for doing this with your whole heart, and for being part of our tribe.