Sunday, September 4, 2016

"i was never the same…"

"the sun's not so hot
in the sky today,
and I can see summertime
slipping away..."

James Taylor's "September Grass," takes me to a time long before it was even written. A time when JT's voice was the soundtrack of my heart. September 1971 -- Sweet Baby James, a boy who played football, and a town as quaint as a Gilmore Girls episode.

Only I was the thing that didn't fit in. I was not the confident, charming teenager living in a quaint village.  I was a misfit character from all the shows that weren't even being written in those days. Stories about self-doubt, tears that fell in rivers, and feelings that were choked back in silence.

I didn't know that things could be different for me.  I was the girl who lived in a secret.  Until one day God dropped me into the arms of a sweet town and a lovely boy.  The town was a small village that I grew to love.  And the boy was kind.  He gave me hope.   Hope that someday I might actually be a normal girl.  A girl with a family that laughed loudly and fought openly. Because he was a normal boy.  He was all about fishing and football, olds car and hands that were strong and capable and fixed things. He was safe. And believe me, safe was everything to me.

Our family had only moved to the area that spring of 1970.  We lived in a small carriage house on an old estate just outside of town. I had attended the local high school for two months before we broke for summer.  Since then I'd endured three months of babysitting younger siblings, canning endless bushels of tomatoes, pickles, and beets, and searching for places to hide and read. My mother was ripe with twins, so I became her arms, legs, hands and feet. I would make breakfast, do dishes, hang laundry on the line, take it down, fold it, and put it away. Dinner, baths, bedtime stories. The next morning it started all over again.

I had circled the Tuesday after Labor Day on a calendar that hung on the wall next to my bed. The first day of school. I would be free of it all -- small children, and mind-numbing chores, the smell of tomatoes waiting to be canned, and the weight of wet laundry.

The first week of school was glorious. I was learning to type, my english teacher was young and eager, our civics class was interesting, and I wasn't new. I'd been at the school for two months in the spring and I actually knew a few other kids. This was a rare for me.  We moved constantly when I was growing up. That first weekend there was the promise of a youth group gathering at the local community center. Basketball, records, dancing, board games, and s'mores.

My dad agreed to let me go if I took my younger sister. That was easy. She was outgoing and popular. I was neither. But entering any social gathering on the trail of her Love's Baby Soft perfume had become my mode of operation in high school. I didn't mind. If I was going to be associated with anyone, my sister was the perfect companion.  In her company I had a chance of being included.

We'd gone to the opening football game of the season that afternoon and our team had won. The air was crisp and spirits were high when we arrived at the community center that evening. There was a group of guys shooting baskets in the gym, girls on the periphery talking, and other kids playing twister and monopoly on the raised stage at one end of the long room that was used as a combined gym, theater, and town meeting hall.

The music was loud and there were as many kids playing on the swings and playground equipment outside as there were inside. I stayed in my sister's orbit as she gravitated towards a group of girls she knew. They were nice girls. I knew some of them from classes we shared. When the conversation stalled I excused myself and went to the stage where a boy was waiting for someone to play chess. That would be me -- the game geek. Scrabble, chess, backgammon, Yahtzee -- I loved them all.

Some time later -- time filled with intense strategic concentration -- I noticed that the lights had been lowered and half of the kids had gone home. Those who remained were dancing on the basketball court. These were nice kids, I liked them. I wanted to be one of them. I left the game area on the raised stage and joined my sister on the sidelines. It was a sweet moment.

Then a boy I knew from our English Literature class came up and asked me to dance. The song was James Taylor's "Fire and Rain." I was sure he was talking to my sister. But no, he was asking me. I remember the clean scent of laundry detergent on his red and green plaid flannel shirt. I remember that he was a good foot taller than I was. I remember feeling something I'd never felt before -- at home.

We became friends.  Later, we were a couple within the safe context of a larger group of kids that spent Friday nights together at the local Methodist Church -- playing games, talking, and eating pizza. He was kind. He was gentle and quiet. He had a big family that laughed and fought and took me under their wing. His mom would scold me when I needed it. His dad would give me advise on all measure of issues from applying for jobs to changing the oil in my car. His brothers teased me and his sisters were my allies.

This isn't a particularly inspired or poignant post. But for me, this moment in my life was magical. For the first time, I felt like I belonged somewhere. Home felt like crisp September air. It tasted like apples and it smelled like woodsmoke and laundry detergent on a flannel shirt beneath my cheek. Home was a community center in the middle of a small town where my sister and I stood together without our parent or siblings -- and I wasn't afraid. Home was the promise of friendship and belonging.

So even now, when September sweeps in on the cool breath of autumn's promise, I feel safe. I am in the arms of a tall boy with kind eyes. I have just discovered what it might feel like to belong, and I never want to leave. I have a glimpse of my sister and I as whole people -- not just one tenth of a family. I have begun to realize that there is more to life than being small and scared -- the new girl who is awkward and bookish.

September is my reminder of that feeling.  It says, remember that you belong. Remember that you are not small and afraid of what you cannot see, or control, or understand. You know what home feels like. You know what it means to belong -- not to a place or a person - although those are lovely -- but to something so infinite and kind that it gave you the gift of a September evening in 1970.  It let you feel the promise of something you didn't even know you were aching for.

I believe that these moments of spiritual serendipity imprint themselves on our hearts.  They never leave us and they are always there to remind us to have hope, to persist, to be patient, and to trust. September does that for me. September is not a 30 day span on the calendar. September is a promise. A promise of home, and belonging, and discovering something you hadn't even known to hope for. 

We all have opportunities to make this kind of a difference in another person's life.  It doesn't always happen in big ways.  Sometimes it is the smallest act of acceptance that leaves the most enduring imprint on the heart.  That evening a boy simply asked a girl to dance.

offered with Love,


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