How does something as outrageous as the above succulent exist, there in the dirt by the sidewalk on my street?
I ran into an old friend at Trader Joe's yesterday, the mother of one of Sophie's classmates, a young woman with multiple disabilities who has been in school with Sophie for fifteen years. My friend is an Orthodox Jew and lives not too far from me, but we run in different circles and it's only rarely that I speak with her. Yesterday, when we literally bumped our carts together, we both exclaimed how happy we were to do so. We threw our arms around each other and smiled. She wears the traditional garb of the Orthodox, a long skirt, sensible shoes, a nondescript blouse. Her hair is obviously covered by a wig. I was in jeans and a long-sleeved tee-shirt, clogs, my hair twisted up with a clip. I asked her how her ten (yes, TEN) kids were, and she said, They're good, thank God, thank God. She smiled and I smiled. Later in the conversation, I might have said the word hell, but I quickly apologized and she laughed. She told me how happy I made her. We shared stories of our girls, we talked about pads for soaked sheets (the bane, for both of us, of our existence -- the changing of the sheets). My friend has a dark sense of humor. She is one of my people. We ventured down the dreaded road of What Is Going to Happen After High School. (neither of us has any idea). She shared with me the pressure she feels from friends, even from family, to put her daughter in a home, give her away. I nodded my head. I understand. They want me to have what they call a normal life, my friend said. Ha! I replied. She is my life, my friend said. I nodded my head. We laughed at these friends, wondered why they didn't just pitch in and literally help. Change the sheets one morning! I shared with her how even a therapist I know told me a story of a couple who put their child with Down Syndrome into residential care when he was a baby, certain that that action had saved their marriage and subsequent children. We looked into each other's eyes and I imagine saw similar darkness and light. I would never judge anyone for choosing to do that, I told my friend, but I imagine it's harder than THEY say. We both agreed that we'd as soon shut down, cut out a piece of our hearts, be numb and dead to the world we know than make that decision. We talked for a bit more, hugged again and said good-bye.
Sophie's outrageous existence has brought me these outsider friendships with women and men that I would never have encountered otherwise. There's something beautiful and terrible in the symmetry of our lives, order and chaos, sharp and fluid, damaged and graced.