The Homefront: The power to lift others that lies in all of us
My son watched his young daughter skip down the street two houses away, stand on their porch, ring the doorbell, then disappear into the house when the door opened to her. He turned away, embarrassed by the tear in his eye. “That’s the first time in her life she’s asked me if she could go play at a friend’s house,” he explained. The recent move in of a family with a little girl her age opened an entire new world to her, and she was reveling in it, along with her parents.
Oh, the difference a good friend can make.
I grew up in a very old home situated on our town’s Main Street surrounded by stores and other businesses that grew up, around and past our island of a house. Consequently, no friends lived next door or even in the next blocks. My only playmates were my siblings and, well, the fact that siblings are always your only option is both a good and a bad thing.
As we matured, the natural longing for a wider circle of friends grew. In my world, our isolation meant no interaction with others beyond the hallways of school. But even worse (in my mind’s eye) was me. Being the tallest person in my class thanks to gangly, awkward legs — and the thick glasses sitting on my face didn’t help. I stumbled through junior high with my head down, my voice silent and my mind purposely engaged in anything but where I was and who I was.
I was so myopically miserable I didn’t notice the many others like me, singular satellites who orbited around the “in” crowd, never finding an opening.
And then in a senior high moment, I did notice one. Like me, she was homely, existed quietly, not really noticed except in some form of derision. And she owned a huge heart. I noticed her because she noticed another one of “us” and reached out to enfold that scrap of a person into her world. The two of them became friends and, in that friendship, became peaceful.
I hesitantly reached out to them, and then I was enfolded into their peace. In time, a ragtag group of the misfits evolved. We belonged because we didn’t belong. We were still amusing to others, something to make fun of, something of a target — but that no longer mattered.
That “we” made all the difference. Now, a friendly face here and there in the hallways between classes smiled back. I had someone to sit by in classes, no longer huddled in a corner chair of the room. I confidently carried my lunch tray to a table where I knew I would be welcomed. I rode home with friends and spent time at their houses. I studied eyes while I talked to people and they looked back into my eyes with no judgment, just calm acceptance.
I swear that one friend got me through high school. Because of her, I found levels of confidence I never knew. I started going to sports games and assemblies because I had someone to sit with. When one of my teachers recommended I join the yearbook staff, I did, discovering a new interest and skill. I interacted with my teachers, and my grades improved. I entered a writing contest and won.
Most importantly, I learned firsthand the absolute power of “folding” someone into our world — a power we all possess. The power of showing up at the new neighbor’s door to say “hello” and “welcome.” The power of smiling at a stranger, especially one who seems to need it. The power of saying, “You can sit here,” when someone searches awkwardly for a place. The power of listening with our eyes. The power of letting someone unload a huge burden without judging — just hugging.
In a world filled with so much derision and judgment, we’re at high risk of being strangers — even enemies — with one another. The power to alter that lies in us, as it always has, when we turn strangers and enemies into friends. We can continue our hand wringing — or we can look for the next person to fold in. We seriously can change another person’s life for the better. We are that powerful.
D. Louise Brown lives in Layton. She writes a biweekly column for the Standard-Examiner.