"An invisible red thread connects those destined to meet, despite the time, the place, despite the circumstances. The thread can be tightened or tangled, but can never be broken."
Our family recently took a road trip to the DC area, several hundred miles from our midwest home. By sheer chance, a friend of mine and her family were also going to be in the DC area at the same time, several hundred miles from her New England home. Since we would be in the same area at the same time, we set up a time and place to get together with our families and picked the National Zoo.
I met her in Kindergarten when we sat around the piano on small carpet squares while our teacher played and we sang. The carpet squares were kept stacked neatly in a corner of the room and there was only one purple one. Of course, we both wanted it. I don't remember who ultimately got to sit on the purple carpet square on that particular day, but I remember that is how we met and that is where the story of our friendship began.
We were typical childhood friends. We played at each other's homes and made forts in the woods and went sledding on the big hill behind my house and would swing on the swings at hers. We were like most girls with one small exception that came in the form of a younger girl with a head full of blond curls.
My friend's sister, younger than us and who happened to have significant special needs.
Through the years of playing in my friend's home, her sister became quite familiar to me. True, she was quite different from most little sisters I knew at the time, but I just saw her as another member of the family. `This little girl was my first personal relationship with a person with special needs. It was a positive experience that taught me that 'different' deserved equal respect and kindness and was nothing to fear.
In the fifth grade, I moved away. My friend and I kept in touch for a while, but after a few years we'd lost touch. I never forgot her and through the years wondered about her and her little sister.
A few decades later I was living 1,000 miles from my childhood home, raising Miss J and M, my own child with special needs. I turned to Facebook and found my childhood friend. We reconnected and through emails, she has been a source of support and encouragement to me. Her openness and willingness to share her experiences growing up as the sibling of a child with special needs have helped me in guiding and raising Miss J.
And then, thirty years since we'd seen each other last, we stood face to face at the National Zoo. We met each other's family and I was able to see her parents again for the first time since I was eleven.
I spoke at length with her mother. I asked her questions about what it was like when her daughters were young. I asked how she kept her sanity on the difficult days and how she handled holidays and what she felt made her a stronger mother and what she did to ensure her other children also received the time and attention they needed.
She shared anecdotes of her experiences and offered advice and encouragement and words of support. My conversation with her mothered me in a way that I needed. Many women mother, but far fewer are parenting children with special needs and can so intimately relate to the experiences that are uniquely ours.
It was the day after our return from the vacation that I read that Chinese proverb for the first time. Thirty years later I had grasped that red thread and found my friend still there on the other end.