Friday, May 23, 2014

Gift of wild friendship

Helen has been on my heart for years, literally since second grade at Main Street Elementary in Glen Ellyn, IL. Today she'd easily be diagnosed with something like Asberger Syndrome, high-functioning autism, and ADHD, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder; back then there weren't names for her behavior and, yet, she was assigned an aide and mainstreamed into my classroom. Seems pretty progressive from my perspective.

Somehow she wormed her way into my heart. Maybe it was the galloping around the classroom and whinnying like a horse, her bright spirit and intensity. She belonged as much as I, the quiet and studious child. Perhaps I wanted to be more out there like Helen or maybe it was as simple as she needed a friend and Spirit nudged me in that direction.

Helen's window
I don't recall all of the particulars of our relationship, but I do remember she came to my birthday party, spirited energy and all. I see her: strawberry-blond shoulder-length hair partially secured with a rubber band, fair skin and freckles, skinny as all get-out, romping around in her plaid jumper with a white short-sleeved blouse, Peter Pan collar, white-cable knee-high socks and brown Mary Jane shoes. At her desk in the corner with Mrs. Schroeder, her patient aide. I must have been pretty engaged with her because I can't think of other friends that year outside of my Brownie Troop and the neighborhood kids. That was also the year I fell in love with reading. So, second grade was pretty much hanging with Helen and reading, not such a bad way to spend childhood.

Until the day Helen hadn't returned from recess, the teachers panicked, adult yelling ensued, then a loud squeal and, soon, an ambulance siren. Helen had run out in front of a car. Fortunately, we were all safely back in our seats and didn't witness the trauma. That would have been heart-wrenching and wounding. Helen came back in a cast as if nothing had happened and we resumed our happy classroom at the bottom of the stairs. Funny thing is, that a couple of years ago on a return trip from Wisconsin, we took our girls back to Glen Ellyn and stopped at the school. It's now a beautiful rec center and the class I shared with Helen has been transformed into an art room. How wonderfully appropriate, I thought. It and the halls seemed so much smaller than I remembered and yet, I could picture Helen right in that room, her back to the door and desk facing the wall, under the high window. I wonder where she is and what she's doing. I hope she's had a rich life. She had such energy, passion and spirit.

A few weeks ago, I pawed through a thick album of school things my mother had saved and passed on. Tucked inside was a hand-written letter from Mrs. Schwanke, my second-grade teacher. It was thanking me for an end-of-the-year gift and telling me I would do well in my new school and find another girl like Helen to befriend. My eyes welled as I read. I had not thought my relationship anything out of the ordinary, but my teacher had.

Helen taught me that it's okay to be different, be who we are because God will always take care of us and draw what and who we need close. Thank you Helen, wherever you are!

• When has Spirit nudged me into an unusual relationship, particularly as a child?
• How easily did I respond?
• Was it any easier as a child than it would be as an adult?
• How have those experiences transformed me?
• How am I richer for them?

wired, wound up
and ready to
all of the

she reminded 
me of Tigger
from Winnie-the

I was fixated,
and drawn
to her wildness

maybe my quietness
grounded her and
her rambunctiousness
unbridled me

whatever it
was, our
was a gift

Listen to this post:

No comments:

Post a Comment