Saturday, October 1, 2011

A Priceless Gift That Cost Nothing

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative

She never knew my name. On the social bell curve of high school, I was one of the crowd buried in the middle. My friendships were warm. Some were enduring. Still the same, we traveled in different circles even tho' I could walk past her house in less than 7 minutes as I made my way to the local library.

It was, and is I suppose, the way of high schools everywhere. Kids understand and abide by the rules without a handbook to show them the way. Maybe it is in these hallways that we begin to wear the masks that hide who we really are?

She was the head cheerleader and, of course, dating the captain of the football team. Or, at least that's what my memory tells me he was. I had seen lots of cheerleaders going back to middle school, but only 1-2 others had that same special spark that set her eyes on fire.

She was a wonder to watch as she commandeered her squad. To a mere mortal like me, her life looked like a fairy tale come true. I can't say I ever wanted to BE her, but I think I would have enjoyed a taste of her world every now and then. When I tell you why I remember her, I think you will wish you had known her too.

Courtesy Christina Hooker Jones
It had been a particularly grueling day. Not sure why now because teen grueling pales by comparison to adult grueling. I felt as if I were floating lost and alone in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the hallways. I wanted to step away from the do and to be someone new. There was no escape, so I toiled on.

Classes were changing. I headed down the corridor and up the crowded stairs wishing I could shake off my invisibility. I felt like an ant in an ant farm. I fought the urge to look around in case some huge humanoid was peering in at me thru the windows that bordered the stairs. The traffic snarl began to move again spurring me from my momentary escape of window dreaming.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
I lifted my head to survey the crowd coming down the stairs as I went up. I was intent on not getting in anyone's way. My eyes met hers, and that radiant, sunshine-like gaze drizzled its way into my somber spirit. The star burst in her eyes spread to her smile which widened in welcome. “Hi! How are ya? Have a good day!”

Suddenly, the clouds parted. My spirits lifted along with my sagging shoulders. Once heavy steps instantly became lighter than air because someone bigger than me had acknowledged my presence. I was not invisible after all. Her genuine warmth was bigger than life. It had been big enough to engulf me and sweep away the dread and foreboding that had threatened to wash me away that day.

And so it was, for the rest of that semester and all the next year, our paths would cross. Before long, we had developed a ritual of greetings on the go as we hurried from class to class. Our smiles would widen, and the fleeting moment of greeting would pass all too quickly. Every day, she made my life bigger than it was. For those brief moments, I left my world of insignificance and became someone worth a smile and a word of encouragement. It cost her nothing and meant the world to me.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
The end of the 2nd year came and with it all the rituals that signal life is moving on. Yearbooks were handed out and signed. I mingled with the others in the middle of the bell curve of high school life and wrote all the syrupy, flowery things that high school girls write. The crowd began to thin. I looked up, and there she was. Ready to graduate. Our days of hallway greetings would be no more.

Hesitantly, shyly, I held out my book. “Would you?” I asked.

Just as shyly, she extended hers as well, “Only if you will....”

I tried to tell her, in just a few short words, about the gift she had given me all those days as we traversed the stairwells and hallways of our lives. I'm not sure I did it justice. I am sure I cannot do so tonight.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
In not too many years later, she was gone. Anorexia had taken hold of her and weakened her until an infection carried her away. I never knew her. She never knew my name until I signed it in her yearbook. But, every time I smile at a stranger and every time I wish someone a good day, I remember her. I have never heard the theme song for the television show, "Cheers", that I don't think of her when they sing the phrase 'where everybody knows your name'.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
She gave me a gift that cost her nothing. It meant the world to me. I'd like to think she looks down on me now from Heaven. I'd like to think she smiles when someone who is lost and alone in the stairwell of life looks up and sees me coming. She smiles because she knows I remember the gift she gave and am still passing it on today - over 3 decades later.


  1. A powerful reminder of how seemingly insignificant things can touch another person. How sad that she couldn't accept herself as she obviously accepted you.

  2. It was such a simple but powerful gesture. Back in those days, anorexia was much more of a mystery than it is now. I was devastated when I heard of her death because I knew what a treasure her family and friends had lost! As I told you, her life and death is what has caused increased concern about and fear for my own relative. I can only hope that outcome will be less sad!