All right, gather round people of the internet. It’s story time.
Way back when I was a chubby and opinionated preschooler, I had a friend named Alyssa. She was tall, like me, and had deep brown eyes, also like me. We remained friends through elementary school, before aging into different friend groups in junior high and high school. Four years ago, we found each other on social media and have been keeping up with each other online ever since.
But I haven’t spoken to her in like thirty years.
A few weeks ago, Alyssa sent me a Facebook message saying she had a big crazy story to tell me. She proceeded to say that her dad’s wife has a grandson, who we will call Cole, who has autism and who recently moved into residential care. Alyssa happened to hear that Cole lives in the same town where Jack lives. She said to her stepmom, “I have a friend whose son lives in a group home in that same town.” She showed her a picture of Jack from Instagram or wherever and LOW AND BEHOLD, this lady (the grandma) recognized Jack as Cole’s housemate BECAUSE THEY LIVE IN THE SAME HOUSE, PEOPLE.
She told me Cole’s mom (we will call her Catherine) wanted to talk to me because hello, we’ve been through the same mad/wild/heart-wrenching experience of raising a nonverbal, super special, super high-maintenance son and then having to place him in a group home in order to a) survive, and b) get the care he required to be safe and happy. We have literally been there and absolutely done that.
I got Catherine’s number and we started texting each other. Last week, we met for lunch.
It turns out that our lives have followed strikingly similar patterns of making enormous sacrifices in the service of parenting our particular boys. We know all about sitting out from events, trips, family parties, and outings because our boys couldn’t manage it. We understand the difficulty of having to split up constantly with one parent taking the other kids to do “regular family” things, and one parent staying home with the special kiddo. We know the isolation and the cultural gaslighting (if we only used xyz supplements or specialized water or voodoo chants, we would solve all our boys’ problems, so really guys, shame on us). We know from experience that caregiving is an ongoing, emotionally draining, and physically exhausting thing.
We just KNOW.
The long and short of our conversation was this: our boys are exceptionally unique. Raising them has been the fulcrum around which all other points of our lives have moved. Now said boys live in the same house (!) and we have also met (!) which makes us friends for all eternity (!)
But wait, this story continues.
Today I went to Costco, where after checking out with my groceries, I saw ALYSSA OF SAID JACK/COLE STORY in the food court. I haven’t spoken to her since I was eleven. And there she was, right in front of me.
We had the most delightful conversation and I was able to embrace her (twice!) and thank her in person for seeing this connection between our two families. She was the link between us, and she noticed it and brought us together. The emotions were bubbling all over the place, with a fizzy tank of gratitude dominating the entire encounter.
On the drive home, I thought about the errands I’d run that day, and the billion people at that particular Costco at that exact moment, and the beauty of ME seeing HER in a serendipitous meeting of once-childhood friends whose families are now unexpectedly united.
My soul felt alight.
It was incandescence emanating from a deep-seated awareness that what had transpired wasn’t coincidence.
It wasn’t even just God being mysterious and lovely.
It was people who love Cole and Jack–relatives, ancestors, our kindred dead, angels beyond the veil, call them what you will–who rallied to identify the link in our families. And having found Alyssa, they nudged her to reach out and bring us together.
This is how it happened. I know it.
How do I know it, you ask? Keep listening, I’m not done.
There’s one more part to this story.
Last night I dreamed I opened my dad’s journal and was excited to finally read it.
My mom gave me his journal when he passed away. It’s a gorgeous leather number filled with handmade paper. He wrote exactly three entries in it in 2012. I hadn’t read it because I couldn’t bear the thought of reading those three pages and having it be over. That would be it. I just could not do it.
But then I had that dream, in which my mom was standing in front of me and we were both so jazzed at the prospect of reading those three entries.
I remembered this as I drove Charlie to school in the 17 degree morning. I remembered it again as I did my workout. I remembered it when I went to the school a little later to volunteer. I remembered it yet another time as I drove to Costco. I thought about it after I ate lunch and sat down to write, at which point I finally retrieved the journal from my desk drawer and opened it up.
I read it.
It’s all about his family. Us.
He wrote two of the entries while visiting Yellowstone, reminiscing about the decades of memories in that most magical of national parks. He loved it there so much.
The other entry he wrote on his 43rd wedding anniversary. He expressed deep thankfulness for my mother and for the loving and good person she is. He spoke of the astonishment he felt at his life. He did not anticipate so much beauty and happiness.
I almost wanted to be a little cross, and lecture him for not filling that lovely leather-bound book with hundreds more entries. But I did not feel cross.
I felt tranquil.
He delivered a message to me and the message was this:
I’m still here.
I see you.
I know what’s happening in your lives.
We are a family, and I am working from my new estate to help all of you.
Jack, Cole, Catherine, Alyssa, my dad & who knows how many others I can’t see–we are all players in this unfolding romance.
Jesus wrote the script and our loved ones are saying their lines from behind the gauzy curtain that separates us.
It’s a play about love and it’s real because, you guys, “angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost” (2 Ne 32:3).
They are speaking to me. To us.
When I still myself enough to listen, I can hear them.