Byline: This story has appeared in the Cat’s Meow, under the name of The Gifts that she Gave Me
The Gifts that She Gave Me
She came right up to me out of nowhere: this little girl with the biggest, brightest smile I had ever seen. “Hi my name is Dee, glad to meet you, and always remember God loves you.” This was my very first meeting with a wonderful, self-confident, joyful eight-year-old who was to become a lifelong friend.
I have to admit that in the early days, I did feel somewhat superior; after all I was older than she was. I was nine-years-old and in the next level in both school and the Sunday school, division of our church. I felt that the friends with whom I hung out were older and far more mature than Dee. Dee and I saw each other every Sunday at the mission communal gatherings, but we did not really “hang out” together in any other social context.
Never once during those years at the Mission did I ever see a frown, or hear a bad word come from Dee. She was the happiest person I ever met. We were both poor kids living in the ghetto, and believe me, it was difficult to find true happiness. Yet, Dee managed to find it every single day of her life!
She was truly an earth angel long before I ever knew how to recognize one.
With the onset of high school, came new challenges for me. Since Dee was younger, she was left behind. However, as the years progressed, I kept in touch through a mutual friend. Lavenia who would let me know how the old gang was doing.
Later, both Dee and I found husbands and subsequently divorced. After our divorces we came back home to the ghetto community where we were raised. It was at this time that we resumed our friendship. Dee was living with her mother at the time.
Lavenia mentioned that Dee was the community’s champion Scrabble player. No one who played her could beat her. I had played a few games of Scrabble and decided to give her a try. Naturally, Dee beat me each and every time. She truly was a champion Scrabble player and had won in international tournaments. But never once would she pass up an opportunity to play a game, even with an amateur like me!
You could say that the first gift that Dee gave me was her intoxicating personality. The second was her love of Scrabble and her ability to treat everyone as an equal.
Later, Dee moved into her own apartment and I continued to visit with her there. It was during the early days of our reunion, that I had the opportunity to date a man I met at school some ten years earlier. We lost contact after our classes had ended. We met one night walking down the street after he moved into the ghetto community where Dee and I lived. We discovered that since our school days, we had both married and divorced. This meeting sparked a mutual interest in dating and getting reacquainted.
However, I was faced with a moral dilemma. I found out through Lavenia that this man was in fact Dee’s ex-husband. I was not sure if I could date him under the circumstances. Lavenia did not see a problem but the situation still haunted me. I decided to consult Dee about it. True to form Dee wished me the best of luck and told me that if it made me happy then by all means pursue the relationship. She would not harbour any ill feelings.
Thus, the third gift that Dee gave me was to consider my own needs and wants above others. Up until that point, I had always put the needs of others before my own.
Often, I would talk about Dee to yet another friend, Maya, who also lived in our ghetto community. Maya prided herself on knowing all the residents of the community, but she could not quite place Dee. However, one day after I gave her a physical description of my angel friend; Maya said
“I know that lady! One day when I was struggling home with bags of groceries, a taxi stopped and this woman with the biggest smile asked me if I needed a lift home. I am now convinced that was Dee!”
From this act of kindness, the fourth gift that Dee had given me was the gift of charity.
The years progressed and Dee and I maintained a solid friendship. We played Scrabble all weekend long and did all the things that friends do. Dee is a successful writer. She is a historian and an authority on blacks in our city. She watched me struggle on welfare raising my son alone as a single parent until she could not take it anymore. One day she sat me down and said,
“When are you going onto university to get yourself a degree? Frankly you are just wasting yourself.”
I was not open to any suggestions at that time in my life. I had 1,001 excuses to argue against going onto university. I was having problems with my teenage son and life was very overwhelming. It was not the time in my life to go back to school, or so I thought. I was already 37 years old. But Dee tackled each and every excuse and eventually wore down my resistance. I agreed to go to university if, as I put it, she would “hold my hand.” She agreed.
She was my mentor for a full academic year. She edited my papers and basically taught me how to write. She provided support and guidance until one day she stopped dead in her tracks and told me straight out,
“You don’t need me anymore. Little sparrow it’s time for you fly.”
The news was hard for me to swallow and university life without the prospect of her as my mentor was scary. It was hard, it was frustrating, it was challenging, it was exhilarating, but I did it! I graduated from my university cum laude (graduated with honours) and I went on to obtain a masters degree in Counselling Psychology.
While in university, I had taken the teaching skills that I had learned from Dee and I mentored a few students along the way; challenging each and every one of them to be the best they could be, just as Dee had done for me.
Dee, my earth angel gave me the gift of friendship; she gave me the gift of believing in myself, she gave me the gift of writing, and the gift of teaching. But the biggest gift of all that she gave me was the gift of unconditional love. In my 54 years of life, I do not believe I have ever had a better teacher and friend.