THE COLOR OF YOUR EYES

Some of the best things in my life almost never happened.

So there I was, nervous as all get out but attempting nonchalance by leaning against the cinderblock walls. I was waiting for my youngest son as he finished his first day of preschool.

The cool moms, to a woman clad in variations of the right workout gear, were all animatedly chatting. I longed to be animatedly chatting too but rarely managed it. I was usually uncomfortable because I could never figure out the right thing to wear at the right time or say the right thing at the right moment. To be fair, the women seemed nice. They probably were. But at that moment those women felt as distant and as unapproachable to me as the perfectly coiffed celebrities in People Magazine. This is a magazine, by the way, I profess to hate but will always read if a copy is in front of me.

As I was counting the minutes until my escape, I spotted a woman I’d seen earlier in the morning. We’d been at the elementary school helping set up the book fair, but we were rushed, we were working and we hadn’t actually met. I was sure she wouldn’t recognize me. If she did I was sure she didn’t want to bother talking to me. And so, not to humiliate myself, I pretended I hadn’t seen her. Like a little kid, I was actually staring at my shoes.

But then there were four shoes in my lowered field of vision, not just two. It was that woman of course. She said she saw me this morning at school and she also had a son in the other preschool class. She was going to take her son back to work at the elementary book fair in the afternoon. She asked if my son and were I going back there too.

We were. I said I’d meet her there. But the little boys hadn’t had lunch. So I didn’t head straight to the school. I went home. I packed two lunches: one for my son and one for hers and headed back over to the school to meet her. She reached out—I reached back.

This is the story of how I almost missed meeting the person who became one of my closest friends. And because I was so desperately shy, my son almost missed meeting the little boy who became, and still is, his best friend.

***

I was hot, grubby, and seriously underdressed when I got the call at work.   There was a dinner party at some elegant spot on the Upper East Side. The person on the other end of the line was actually begging me to come to this dinner. I was clearly a last minute fill in—she denied it. She applied some serious pressure—naturally I caved. There was no time to go home to change.

I arrived at the restaurant early, but couldn’t make myself walk through the door. I circled the block once. Then twice. Then again and again and again. Panic was rising with every circuit. I was going to bail out on this thing. I could feel it.  A million excuses crowded my brain I but couldn’t figure out which one sounded most plausible. At last, my immense sense of guilt about sneaking away overcame my immense sense of panic.   I pushed myself through the front door and was directed to a long table. There was one chair left and I slid into it. I found myself seated across from a tall, thin man with distinctive horn-rimmed glasses and a very kind face.  He was nice. In fact, he was much more than that. Had I used but one of my many excuses and headed back to Brooklyn I would have missed meeting the man who would eventually become my beloved husband, my soul-mate, the excellent and deeply caring father to our three sons and numerous cats.

***

Some of us are born knowing how to make small talk seem effortless, know when it’s proper to kiss on one cheek or two, know how to look people in the eye and really listen to what they’re saying.

Some of us are not.

I was lucky twice and who knows how many times more. But how many connections had I missed by not reaching out? What had I missed? Who had I missed? And then I realized an extraordinary thing.

I never knew the color of anyone’s eyes. I couldn’t know—how could I if I wasn’t really looking at them, focusing on them?

So I forced myself to look up and really look at people, not just at who they appeared to be but who they really might be. You can tell by the eyes.

A long time ago a woman reached out across a hallway to me and became my friend. A man with a kind face reached out to me across a table and became my husband.

It’s my turn to reach out first and wait for the reach back. When I really look in people’s eyes what I most often see is kindness.

 

 

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TRAVEL DIMES

Stuffed into three or four drawers and crammed into my glove compartments are dozens and dozens of sealed envelopes. The envelopes are empty save for a single dime in each. They’re important, so I keep them safe.

I find myself thinking about the dimes and what they mean to me every September as school starts again. After a whole summer at home with little kids, it’s hard to blame anyone for feeling exhausted and even little euphoric. But for a lot of people behind the exultation of sending kids back to school is a niggling sense of uncertainty. We want them to go, but really are they going to be okay? How will we know? What do we do? Are we doing enough?

Fear and uncertainty can make people, even devoted and loving parents, do strange things. I’ve seen parents who anxiously interrupt their children’s classes in the middle of the day with a surprise treat to parents who literally stop traffic at school to nimbly leap from the drivers seat, do an end run around their car just to plant a kiss on junior’s cheek. Or parents whose concern for their offspring is so great that they actually hide in the bushes to observe recess.

Is it our children’s safety that we worry about or the uncertainty of what their lives are like without us? Because when children cross the threshold of school an amazing thing happens. Their lives become their own. Separate from ours. They deserve that.

I know the world is a different place from the days when I used to walk the few blocks to school alone. But alone I could look at things and think, even if I wasn’t thinking of anything much. Once I found a four-leaf clover but I couldn’t reach it because it was behind a fence. (It might also been a three-leaf clover and a green bug. I’m still not sure.) When I walked back to school after lunch there were days I would spend my milk money at the ice cream truck. Sometimes I would just count all the cracks in the sidewalk. Nothing earthshaking. But I was looking at the world through my own eyes and no one else’s. Everybody, even children, deserves his or her own view.

But years ago separation was a fact of life. No longer. Today we are wirelessly tethered to each other with smart phones, but really, those lines can snarl like invisible apron strings. There is no wondering any more if someone you love is okay, little trust in either them or in the unknown. We have the ability to know and we want to know now. Parents can and do track their kids via satellite. When kids are away at “technology free” camps, their parents can still “stalk” them by scanning hundreds of daily uploaded photos from the camps themselves.

Which brings me back to the dimes.

A long time ago whenever any of us would leave on a trip my little Gram would give us what she called “travel dimes”. She always said it was so we could use a pay phone to call home if we ever needed to. But we knew each dime meant that she loved us, that she trusted us, and she would always be there for us. My mother has kept up the tradition, plying me, my sisters, the grandchildren, anyone close to her, with dimes in sealed envelopes before every trip. She gives us the envelopes with the dimes and trusts we do our best to be safe.

And although a dime will scarcely buy a stick of gum today, my sisters and I also send travel dimes to those we love as they travel hither and yon. Virtual ones, sent to our children via text. They still work. In my world that quietly says what I need to say. Stay safe as you explore the world. I love you. I’m here whenever you need me. I’ll be here when you come home.