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It’s the first column of the Easter season. And that feels like a good time to tell you a story about gratitude.
In 2008, Mrs. FKB and I moved from our hometown of Vancouver, British Columbia to Berkeley, Calif. so that I could go to go to seminary. We packed everything that we could fit into our Toyota hatchback, sent a bunch of boxes of clothes and kitchen utensils to ourselves through the mail, and put the rest of our belongings in my folks’ attic. And then Mrs. FKB and the kids got on a train heading south while my brother-in-law, Panos, who had generously volunteered to help drive, and I started out for California with a cat and a miniature dachshund in the back of the car.
On the day that our journey to Berkeley began, our son, Ami, had just turned 4 years old and his sister, Mimi, wasn’t quite 2. So, one child not yet in kindergarten and another not yet entirely verbal and not entirely out of diapers.
That plan sounds more or less crazy to me today. But, with an echo of the optimism or, perhaps, of the ignorance that saw people get into stagecoaches and canoes and set off into the forests and the mountains, we hit the highway feeling excited about what was to come.
Once we got to Berkeley, some of our optimism faded. We realized that our family was in for a pretty big challenge. I was immediately running hard, deep into classes, my eyeballs spinning a couple of different directions with the sudden rigor of being a full-time student after a dozen years in the workforce. (Introduction to Hebrew did its part to convince me that I might not actually be called to ordained ministry.) At the same time, Phoebe was at home with two kids, living in a town in which we knew hardly anyone, wondering what to do.
Thanks be to God, there was Katie. Katie had also just moved to Berkeley so that her partner, Mary Anne, could join the same seminary class as me. Katie was recently retired and she was wondering as well – wondering what she was going to do with three years in the Bay Area, three years away from her home in Portland, Oregon. A couple of decades earlier, she and Mary Anne had played a big role in raising two sets of brothers — so, four boys all told. In one case, that was because their friend had gotten divorced and was abruptly on her own. In the other, it was because their friend’s husband had died. Pretty suddenly, they went from having no kids to having something that sure looked like four sons.
There was a special relationship between Katie and boys.
Ami found her almost right away. Katie lived across the courtyard from us in student housing. And he was pretty impressed when he learned that what she did before she retired. Katie used to sell hydraulic parts for heavy equipment. Excavators! Like a lot of little boys, Ami loved heavy equipment.
Pretty soon Ami was over at Katie’s house every day. At 9 a.m. sharp (he was under orders not to be there earlier) he would faithfully knock on her door. And, thus, Katie’s preschool was born. Katie, its one teacher, Ami its one student. Katie and Ami spent the mornings reading, drawing, playing games, looking up facts about hydraulic components. Laughing and telling stories. They were inseparable.
A few years later, after we all had graduated from seminary, Katie told us that, partway that first autumn, she had phoned a friend back home in Portland and said, “My best friend in Berkeley is 4 years old.” She told us that being with Ami (and, sometimes, with Mrs. FKB and Mimi as they went on adventures across Berkeley and the wider Bay Area) had saved her life. It had given her a kind of anchor while Mary Anne was in class. The funny thing was that my family and I felt the same way. We were — we are — grateful to her. Grateful for the gift of her time, grateful for the gift of her teaching, grateful for the gift of her friendship.
Across a lifetime, there are a handful of relationships in which both parties swear that they are getting the better part of the deal than the other, in which both swear that they are receiving the bigger blessing. Sometimes that happens in a marriage, sometimes it happens with someone whom you get to know at school or at work. Sometimes in happens when a recently retired woman who is wondering what will come next in her life opens a preschool with one student.
Mrs. FKB and I were surprised when Katie first told us what a gift it was for her to have those mornings with Ami. I wonder if she was surprised to learn what a big gift that she gave to us?