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Goodbye, Friend

It was a surprise to see her name in my inbox, so I opened her message first. She’s a homeschool mom I met last fall when my family joined a co-op. Next week the co-op will end for the summer, and she knows my family doesn’t plan to return.

Her message was about co-op business, and she also included a few personal comments.

Then the last line stopped me cold.

“You’ve been a good friend.”

I read that line twice more.

I never knew she considered me a friend.

*     *     *     *     *

The first time I met her was in September, about five minutes before co-op classes began. She was the P.E. teacher, and I had been assigned as her assistant.

Our first conversation involved none of the usual pleasantries exchanged between new acquaintances. She didn’t smile or introduce herself but glanced at my name tag and compared it to her roster. Having ascertained that I was her helper, she briefed me on her lesson plan and what my role would be in it. I remember she used the word “calisthenics,” and I wasn’t sure what that meant. I nodded my head anyway. I wasn’t sure it was safe to ask questions.

The students weren’t sure either. She gave unflinching commands right off the bat. She was not unkind, but she indulged no frivolities. She made kids sit out of games when they talked too much, even on the first day. Driving home later, I was unsure whether I was impressed with her or afraid of her.

In the weeks that followed, her manner toward me warmed a bit, though I would stop short of calling it friendly. She was always focused and purposeful. There was no small talk, which was actually a relief.

I could see that she valued attentiveness and precision, so I learned to wait quietly until she asked me to do something. Then I hopped to it.

She began every class with a devotion and prayer. In this, too, she expected precision. When a seven-year-old said he had a prayer request, she would not accept his statement, “My dad is sick.”

“Okay, but what would you like to pray for?” she prompted.

After all the prayer requests were properly framed, she would pray. I had never heard such prayers. Somehow she was precise and impassioned at the same time, quoting Scripture and moving mountains with the most concise prayers I’d ever heard. I was in awe. I felt a wild urge to ask her to be my mentor, but I didn’t have the nerve.

Then one day I made her laugh. I think it was the first time I heard her laugh, period. And because making someone laugh feels the same as a hug to me, and because it was such an unexpected, welcome change, I laughed too. I felt a wash of warmth from my head to my toes.

That day I sent her a Facebook friend request. She ignored it.

But that laugh felt like a turning point to me. As the semester edged toward Christmas, I grew more comfortable in her company, and she actually divulged some prayer needs to me. That laugh seemed to come a little more easily.

At our last meeting before Christmas, she gave me a small, neatly wrapped gift for being her assistant. Coming from her, it felt like an extravagance, and I was honored.

Over the break, she and I both attended a homeschool mom’s meeting, and she overheard me telling another mom that I was struggling to choose curriculum for next year. She approached me as I left and said, “You should come over for lunch, and I’ll let you look through our curriculum.” My jaw may have dropped.

But a few days later, I did go. Her home was warm and lovely. I don’t know why I expected it to look like an army barracks. She prepared a generous spread on the kitchen island, and her three kids eagerly put away their school work to come and fix their plates. She expected them to do it all themselves — even the little one — and they did. The five-year-old made a couple of messes but promptly cleaned them up without being asked.

In the hour I spent there, I saw the same order and precision of her P.E. class in the way she kept house, mothered her children, and ran her homeschool. I also clearly saw that her children adored her. They approached her freely, performed silly plays for her, and frequently brought out that welcome laugh of hers. She let them have dessert — another surprising extravagance.

I couldn’t seem to nail down her character. I was still intimidated by her, but I began to believe that she wouldn’t want me to be.

When the spring semester began, I requested to be her assistant in Parables class. It’s my daughter’s favorite hour of co-op, and it’s mine too. We’ve learned a great deal from a very precise, passionate teacher.

After 23 Thursdays together, only one is left. She already gave me my second teacher’s assistant gift. It didn’t surprise me quite so much this time.

But I can’t get over that word she used. Time and again, I’ve heard her guide her students to say exactly what they mean. And she takes the same great care with every word she chooses.

And for me, she chose the word “friend.”

Extravagance.

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