It’s the time of year here when trees look picked over, gardens seem bereft and bedraggled, and skies are frequently gray. So as I was walking along recently, I found this color arresting. It promptly landed on my list of things to be thankful for, a list that has been especially abundant this year and includes family, friends, mentors old and new, and, still, the excellent consultation I had last September at Mass General, which gave me hope and ongoing reason to reinvest in my life. If you’ve ever wanted to hug a neurosurgeon while crying dazed and ecstatic tears, you might be vibing to my frequency. I’m thankful for the friend who drove me there and the receptionist who was kind and even the elevators, the hallways, the glass doors, the parking garage. I hate parking garages! But that one helped deliver me from hell back to life on earth. I’m grateful for a screenshot of my parents on Zoom, hugging while wearing the scarves that I made them, my father’s a decade old or so, lingonberry-red, my mother’s new and pinky-purple like a type of orchid. I’m thankful they’ve been untouched by COVID. I’m thankful for your reading this, which is why it’s short—time is valuable! I’m thankful for Nick Hornby, whose novels got me through the worst of election season. I’m thankful for income and inspiration—also for coffee on the daily, and my new favorite source: Grounds for Change. Take a moment and click that link to find out how truly wonderful they are. I have zero financial interest in the company; my only interest is in wanting to see them and every high-quality, deeply principled business continue their good work in the world—work that benefits the people (who, in this case, produce the beans) as well as the ecosystems they live and labor in. Sustainability for all—it doesn’t get better than that.
We were walking together alongside the building when he veered away from me to climb the perimeter of an unused loading dock. He had done that before, on another walk, and appeared cheerfully confident of my discomfort as he placed one foot before the other on the concrete edge, tightrope-style. Dismissing my worries about his safety, he compared me to his granny, who was his guardian and whom he described as “your standard, everyday grandmother.”
Well, I didn’t correct him on that point; for a kid with his background, being able to take a caregiver for granted is a hard-won luxury. However, I can tell you, she was anything but ordinary. For one thing, she was actually his great-grandmother; her early life unfolded against a backdrop of WWII, yet she was still working full-time and ferrying kids to after-school activities when I started seeing them.
Before she obtained custody, she drove to Jason’s house each day—never knowing what she would find—to take him to school. Without her, he wouldn’t have gotten there, neglected among adults whose lives were given over to pills and needles. Now she was raising him. On a rainy afternoon, as she and I were chatting, I glanced down and noticed matching holes, big as silver dollars, worn into the top of each shoe; she laughed as she admitted she was too busy to try on new ones.
It’s thanks in no small part to her, I’m thinking, that Jason was able to hold his own in the world. His bravado on the loading dock notwithstanding, he had at least one quotidian fear that could send him into a panic. Perhaps that’s why it was tempting for him to show off a bit of fearlessness with me—it was probably empowering for him to scare me in that little way.
Someone had given him a pen that wrote in invisible ink. He brought it to show me once, and was writing secret hieroglyphs on the waiting room walls when I walked out to greet him. They would only be visible in purple light, he said. I think about that, and I think about his history, which he wasn’t inclined or equipped to discuss. Hopefully that exploration would happen one day. So much of our lives are written in invisible ink; it takes the right kind of light, shone in the right places, to reveal what is hidden in plain sight. At its best, counseling can shine a soft violet beam—which is, in fact, a careful reflection of a client’s own light.
Late November is meant, in my part of the world, to be a season of gratitude. This year I feel grateful on Jason’s behalf for the care I saw him receive—for the memory of his great-grandmother’s hand ruffling his red hair as she said, when I asked how his week had been, “He’s a good boy.” And I’m grateful for the invisible heart he drew on my hand. Despite innumerable washings since, it’s still there.
Out of respect for client privacy, names here are always changed or omitted, and details may be altered in fact while relevant in spirit. Text and image copyrights held by me. If you enjoyed this piece, I hope you’ll consider sharing it. To subscribe and receive future posts, please look to the upper right on your computer screen, or scroll to the bottom of the page on your mobile device. “The Numbers Game” (July 2017), now long delayed, will be continued in a future post, when I have more stamina for the topic. Thank you for reading!