Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Strength We Gather Along The Way


One of many aid stations at the National Marathon this past weekend.

Four years ago,
while feverishly searching for a job,

I took a temporary house-sitting position. This job involved two GIGANTIC dogs, and one senior in high school. While I never would have ventured to call it babysitting, it was more like chauffeuring—because alas, she had no driver’s license.

Every morning I would wake, and quietly feed the dogs and let them out. Then I would make myself breakfast (from their gorgeous array of all things natural and organic) while I waited for T’s alarm to go off. At 10am her clock radio would blare the latest pop/rap tune (think “Ridin’ Dirty”) for two minutes while she summoned the energy to roll out of bed. Twenty minutes later we would be on the road to a class she was taking in standardized testing, and two and a half hours later I would pick her up.

The afternoon would often be spent with her chatting on the phone about the latest gossip to her high school BFF’s, and I would read or work on a quilt I was making for my mom (which amused her greatly).

Mid-afternoon she would shower and ready for work—hostess at a local restaurant—and I would drop her off, confirm a pickup time, and plan out the rest of my evening. After all, I had it all to myself; she never needed to be picked up until 2:30am.

Carrying this schedule for two weeks taught me several things:
1. There aren’t that many tunes that circulate on the pop/rap station.
2. A college degree, quilt making abilities, and a voracious reading appetite are far from impressive to a high school senior.
3. You have a captive audience when you are the one preparing food, and the other is waiting hungrily for the result.

T and I talked about many things in those two weeks: boys, high school, career aspirations, college possibilities, and pop music. One song that circulated constantly that July was “Lips of an Angel”, which T absolutely loved.

“Have you listened to the words?” I would ask T while she watched me chop vegetables.

“Yeah. It’s really sweet.”

“Really? It’s sweet that this guy, who is clearly in a committed relationship, is expressing affection for a different girl that he’s talking to on the phone?”

“Well…it’s sweet that he cares about her so much.”

“Which girl? The one on the phone? Or the one sleeping in the other room?”

And this is when T would laugh at me for analyzing the song with such depth. And this is where I told her that someday she would probably not want to be in that relationship—as either the girl on the phone or the one in bed.


A few months ago Curtis and I went out to eat on a Monday night. It was a spur of the moment decision, and completely out of the ordinary. At the end of our meal, the girl bussing tables came to clear the table next to us, and I was surprised to find T, four years later, still working the restaurant circuit.

She gave me a hug, and joined us at our table, and quickly proceeded to spill what had happened in the last four years. She had damaged relations with her family nearly beyond repair; she had moved in and out with several boyfriends, finding little satisfaction. And then she started asking my opinion on various circumstances in her life, while I sat quietly in awe of what had just happened. Our conversation was brief, but meaningful, and we spoke on the phone a few times after, before our relationship—briefly rekindled—dissolved once again.


This morning I heard “Lips of an Angel” on the radio as I rode to work, and was instantly transported to that summer of all things rap and organic, to chauffeuring at all hours of the day and night, and to thoughtful conversations over meal preparation with seemingly little significance.

I wouldn’t know that she grasped the depth of our conversations until four years later, when she vividly recanted things we had discussed over dirty plates and an empty basket of chips.

In reality, I still don’t know what she truly clung to or acted on, and I probably never will. What I do know is that there are times when I am quite sure that my words are falling on deaf ears, and in reality I have no idea who is listening.

As I pack up my life here in Ohio (physically, mentally and emotionally) I find myself wondering if and when I will again cross the paths of those I leave behind. As a teacher there is so much investment made with so few opportunities to witness a return. Moving thousands of miles away makes it even more difficult to hope for feedback.

Whether or not the feedback makes it across the country (or on facebook, or in a letter in the mail), I am grateful for reminders from people like T.

Appearances can be deceiving, and impact can never truly be known.

1 comment:

  1. That's a really neat story. I think you make impressions on more people than you expect. And all relationships shape who each of us becomes, whether we like it or not, no matter how short or long that person is in our lives.