|Tomato soup and grilled cheese. If anyone wants the recipe please leave it in the comments and I will include it next time. I assume everyone has a favorite tomato soup recipe already.|
There has been an overwhelming silence the last several weeks and I couldn't figure out why, until yesterday. I walked the dog and then came home determined to have a better day. After returning, I dove right in and started planning something for dinner that could simmer away all afternoon on the stove, I lit candles, folded laundry, and enjoyed being home. As I was cooking and hearing the music in the background coming from my Ipod, I realized I was doing something I learned, something I learned from a dear, dear friend. I was making my home a place of peace and comfort. I learned this from Eileen and her family, the Johnstons. And the silence, it is because the girls and Kevin are gone. Away at school and off to new jobs. I used to babysit for the four Johnston kids before my accident. The girls were Irish Dancers and we quickly bonded and formed what would turn out to be some of the most loving and fulfilling friendships in my life. Eileen loves being at home and makes an art of making it special and welcoming and smell so good. She believes in the simple things in life and her influence on my life has been profound. She and her husband, Ron, deserve a story all of their own. They are mentors, friends, guiding lights, and two of the best people I know. And it isn't a surprise they raised four wonderful children.
I love all of the kids I ever cared for; each one of them holds a special place in my heart. I remember all of them and think of each of them from time to time. But, there are four kids, four kids who never left my side and still remain firmly planted. Everyone was so kind immediately following my accident. Each person did what he or she could do to help the situation. And I am grateful for each and every act of kindness and generosity. I remember them all. As time went on, certain people took over certain roles. I had emotional, spiritual, financial, and all kinds of other support from many different sources including my loving family and amazing friends. The extent people will go to to help is astounding and humbling. There was one favor, one gesture in particular, it wasn't grand or loud or extraordinary. In fact, it was quite ordinary and quite normal. Eileen Johnston, the mother of the four kids, arranged for her hair stylist to come to the hospital and cut and style my hair while I sat in my wheelchair next to my hospital bed. She washed my hair in the sink and gave me a haircut. While I was sitting in the chair and laughing and talking with Eileen, my mom, the stylist and the nurses, I remember suddenly feeling normal, feeling like myself. I was doing something I had done a number of times before my accident and it felt exactly the same way it did prior to my injury, the wheelchair and hospital room didn't matter. When women gather and a hair stylist is present, well the room becomes a salon and the gossip and chatter fill the room drowning out the blood pressure machine and adding color and life to the white, sterile walls. In that forty minutes it took her to cut my hair, I felt like myself again for the first time. Eileen and her kids continued to visit and continued to bring life and joy to the bleak room.
When I finally moved to a transitional living hospital and could leave, Eileen did what she does best, she picked me up and took me to her home for dinner. I was nervous how it would feel to be carried into a home I used to zip in and out of carrying bags, art projects, and groceries. I wondered how I would feel sitting down and not helping the way I did before. We arrived at her house and Eileen and Ron carried me inside, lifting my wheelchair one step at a time. This was it, this was the moment. Kelly came running first. When I say these kids are rays of sunshine, I actually think I mean they are the sun. The bright, shiny sun, with tons and tons of rays. Their hearts are triple the size of their smiles and their compliments and presence never end. They ask a million interesting questions and can have conversations for hours. Kelly is the oldest girl. She was about eleven at the time of my accident. She threw her arms around me, flashed her bright and ever engaging smile and immediately grabbed the back of my chair and pushed me into the kitchen where her sisters and brother were gathered. Each one ran up and gave me the same, loving, and extremely welcoming hug. Kelly stood right next to me and leaned back on the kitchen table while we were all talking and started playing with my hair. She always used to do this and just started doing it as if nothing had changed. My wheelchair and accident didn't matter to her, we were doing what we always did, we were sitting around the kitchen island cackling like hens and Kelly was fixing my hair as if it was any other day. It never dawned on me how important normalcy was, it felt good and I needed it. This was the start of our ever growing common love of all things fashion. Kelly has tried on more clothes for me than I can count. She sits down in them so I can see how they will look sitting. She never tires and her patience with me never grows thin. She sticks it out until we find the perfect thing. Whenever I move, Kelly is here unloading boxes with a smile on her face. Kelly has the self discipline and determination of an Olympian and I call her when I feel like giving up and giving in to frustration. When Kelly sets a goal she achieves it. I find myself calling her for advice because it is wise beyond her years. Her heart is always expanding, she roots for and protects the little guy...she makes me want to be a better person.
The years that followed were difficult to say the least, but without fail and bringing along their glass is always half full zest for life, the Johnstons showed up and made it more bearable. And never once, not once, have they ever seen anything but me. My wheelchair is just a chair I sit in to them. Bridget, the youngest, was only in the first grade when my accident happened. One night when I was over at their house watching a movie, I asked Bridget to get me a drink. She replied with an I'm the youngest of four grin on her face, "No, get it yourself." Her mom was livid and sent her straight to her room. Eileen couldn't believe she said it. I didn't take offense, I figured she was just being silly. A few minutes later, Eileen went upstairs and talked to Bridget and had her come down to apologize. As she apologized she explained, "I'm sorry I said get it yourself Sarah, I was just teasing, and well, I really just forgot you were paralyzed." I hugged her and thanked her. That was the best thing anyone had said to me yet. Bridget is my little buddy and helps with me every project I do. She plants window boxes, sets up for bridal showers, wraps gifts, and talks in funny accents and tells silly stories the entire time. She is game for dashing to the grocery store at midnight and making chili for a last minute football party and laughs all the while. We can have some of the most introspective and enlightening conversations I have had with anyone. She has the best laugh and teaches me every day about responsibility and honesty.
The girls used to rotate grocery trips with me. They would walk the aisles, carry the groceries in for me, unload them, and put them away. Because of them, I have confidence to do this on my own. Because they were kids and kids understand baby steps better than anyone I know, they allowed me time to build my confidence while assisting me every step of the way. They helped with everything from Christmas shopping to the car wash. And not only did they help, they brought their bright and cheery personalities and without fail blasted any defeat or sadness right out of me. As young as they are, I can honestly say, they are some of the most loyal friends I have. Meghan, the middle daughter, is just this, my loyal friend. Any where we go, Meghan is the first to offer to ride with me. She always offers to go with me wherever I need to go. Her nickname is Barbara Walters because she asks a million questions. Her questions always make me think, she is like my little shrink. She has never wavered, epitomizes going with the flow, and prefers to be the cheerleader and is about the best one I know. Meghan's recent compassion for a struggling friend reduced me to tears. Meghan is an old soul and is always there when I need her most.
And Kevin is the oldest and the only boy. I was sure, since he was in Junior High, he would have the hardest time, but how wrong I was. Six months after my accident, Kevin asked if I could speak at an assembly at his school. Kevin was proud of me. He is the brother I never had and never, ever sees me as anything but Sarah.
Each of these kids has given me an invaluable gift. They brought back who I was, the core of who I am. They have showered me with love and continue to fill my cup. When I was so depressed, so alone, when I didn't want to see anyone, especially them...I couldn't bear for them to see me how I was, they didn't stop coming by, no matter how much I said I couldn't. They showed up and always brought back the life inside of me. We would sit and talk and before I knew it, hours passed and I was feeling normal, yet again. When I felt like no one cared or was there to listen, I would get a text from one of them out of the blue, asking a simple question about fashion or boys or school. It happened so much and just when I needed it most. They know exactly when to shine their bright and blinding light. And I am not the only one who can see the glow.
One hot, summer weekend the three girls, Eileen, and I decided to drive to Chicago for a few days. We visited friends, their family, went shopping, and walked around and enjoyed the city. We had a girls' weekend and it was fabulous. We were high on chatter and loved moving from one city activity to another. Smiling is contagious and when I am with them, my cheeks begin to ache. One of the evenings we were there we decided to go out to dinner. We went to this beautifully picturesque, outdoor Italian restaurant. We were seated at our table and immediately we picked up on whatever conversation we were having while driving to our destination. Grins from ear to ear, gorgeous girls with adorable dimples and infectious laughter radiated from our table. It always feels like this to eat with them. The talking never stops and the giggling resounds. Our dinner was delicious and I remember enjoying every moment and image of that evening...the cobblestone, the iron tables and chairs, the trees with white lights, the music, the food and the company. Eileen asked for the check and our waitress returned with the manager and they said our meal was paid for and they loved having us and told us to stay as long as we liked. Eileen right away said no way and was determined not to allow it. Earlier our waitress, who was in training, dropped a tray of drinks and one fell on Eileen. We assumed they were covering our meal because of the spill. Eileen was worried they were taking it out of her pay and thought it completely unnecessary. The manager told us that was in fact not the case and our meal was paid for by someone who wished to remain anonymous. Well, this was not going to fly with Eileen, she was going to find the person and properly thank him and insist that she pay. We tried and tried to figure it out and weasel it out of the waitress to no avail. Finally, we decided to leave while looking over our shoulders for any suspicious behavior. As we were loading in the car a group of people walked by and a man stopped and looked for a minute. Eileen turned and said, "Do I need to thank you? Do I need to thank you for buying our dinner?" He said, "No, no you do not. I need to thank you. My father was paralyzed. After his accident he wouldn't go out much, he just didn't want to. When I looked over and saw all of you having such a wonderful and happy time, it brought me so much joy I wanted to repay all of you some how." We continued to talk to him and tried to pay for our dinner, but he refused to allow it, only asking that we pay it forward someday to someone else out having a fabulous time despite his or her circumstances. We promised and left overwhelmed and overjoyed. Elated conversation filled the car the entire ride back to our hotel and I'm sure you could see the light from our car beaming like a cruise ship. Oh, and as we drove through the toll booth, the person in front of us paid our toll.
I have a lot to be grateful for and only realized the depth of my gratitude following my accident. Everyone helps in his or her own way. Repayment is not an option so I will share as much as I can, because people like this really do exist. People who are there for you when no one else is, people who suffer through the daily tasks with you and ask nothing in return. People who bring out the best in you and teach you to love in ways you never thought possible. People who refuse to stop glowing and lure you into their light. They exist and I know them.
|Kevin, Meghan, Bridget, and Kelly all grown up.|
|The girls. Eileen, Bridget, Kelly, and Meghan.|