A small circle of metal took its place, among other random things, on the kitchen counter top. Aaron had “found a mystery” when his big brother took him to Ollie’s for his usual: single vanilla custard with M & M’s, in a cup. What was it about the rusty washer that made Aaron look twice, and, moreover, allowed him to see the magic within?
I think it was the same thing that I saw in my friend Kim some 25 years ago, and the same thing that is woven and breathed through the existence of every human being, aware or not, on a daily basis. It’s wonder.
Kim, to me, seemed a whole and centered person; already on track, and successfully. We were two of a half dozen graduate students working for our professor, often together in a tiny office where our heady perfumes mixed together in a peppery mix to make us feel like nearly one being. My friend could read and write braille, and she already had dozens of schemes for teaching and making a difference in the lives of children with visual impairments. She invited me to stay at her college apartment on the evenings when she was not there, and when the idea of my commute to my parents’ house in dense evening fog or a blinding Chicago snowstorm caused me significant anxiety, which was quite often.
I had the key; I had the key which would reveal just a bit more about my friend, and which would add another layer to the wonder of this early-twenty-something person who, to me, remains a treasure to behold. There I was, alone, at Amber Manor Apartments. I had survived the quizzical looks of the fellow peeking around the door of the adjacent apartment as I fumbled to work the lock. Inside, the space, counters lined with what seemed like dozens of mason jars brimming with beans, rice, lentils, millet, and the like, and well worn vintage wicker chairs inviting my curious company, resembled nothing of a typical college habitat. Sparsely furnished and somehow fully equipped, Kim’s apartment filled me with a strong sense of peace and comfort, and our friendship has offered a connection that has since carried us through the trials of early adulthood, parenting, impending midlife, and, to a greater degree, the opportunity to look within ourselves.
Someone once told me, in reference to life’s journey, that you “get on the bus, and you get off where it stops.” I take this to mean that we really don’t know what our new days have to offer. We really don’t know what is inside, outside, or within. Do we have a hand in making things happen?
As a little girl and, secretly even into my early adulthood, I often envisioned myself as someone else. What if I had been my next door neighbor, or a Swedish dressmaker, a missionary, or the leader of a political campaign? Twenty-two-year-old me, listening to 10,000 Maniacs and holding the promise of the future, could not see nearly fifty-year-old me, still listening to 10,000 Maniacs, with still so many questions, so many unopened doors, but so many paths worn and traveled. And right now, in this moment, there brews a wonderful mystery around the bend, as the bus prepares for its next stop.
Every year, on the Saturday just after Halloween, Kim and I spend a highly anticipated day together; we have found favorite spots (in an unlikely town) to sit for coffee and to share what our years have had to offer. Our lives have generated different rhythms…Kim is up with the sun, and I prefer the calm of the late-night laundry room. It is rare that we have much contact between each Rockford rendez-vous. There was a string of years where I showed up with a different foster baby in the backpack, or where Kim had taken on a director’s position in a birth to three program, and this was the first either friend had heard of the other’s latest endeavor. The very act of getting off the bus each year, anticipating the wonder, fuels the journey.
The scrap piece of metal that my spirited four-year-old rescued from the street sweeper represents, for him, something to come, something to anticipate, and something to hope for. The little spark that made it stand out in stark difference to the rest of what lay on the ground…that is the force that defines the exceptional friendship, the force that makes turning the corner to see what lies ahead, one of life’s greatest offerings, indeed.