“When we meet,” I used to tell Jim, “God is going to say, ‘Good job with what you did for Nakisha.’” While I was taking care of Jim when he had brain cancer, he amended my statement. “When you meet,” he said, “God is going to say, “Good job for taking care of Jim.’”
Taking care of Jim was a lot of heavy lifting, figuratively and literally.
My role with Nakisha was much less hands on. If I think of life as flowing water, my role with Nakisha was to divert the stream.
Nakisha was twelve years old when we met. She had been institutionalized as a toddler and had a vocabulary of approximately fifty words. She attended a segregated, special-education school where her main goal was to chop fruit into exact one-inch pieces. When her “team” decided she would have the same goal the following year, I knew I had to act.
I learned about becoming a Surrogate Parent for Education and tracked down Nakisha’s mother to get her to sign the paperwork.
With my new, official role, I confidently approached the “team” and informed them that Nakisha was transferring to the local middle school.
The next week, Nakisha started classes at her new school, where she flourished under the tutelage of a dedicated teacher and his aide. She began learning sight words, her vocabulary grew and by the end of the school year, she had begun to read.One year later, Nakisha and I were checking out Halloween displays at a local store and she pointed to one contraption and said, “Look, it is making steam.” Steam? She knew what steam was! I cried tears of joy.
Then, I began instigating for her to move out of the institution. Catholic Social Services offered a life-sharing program, and at fifteen, she moved in with a family. As at school, Nakisha blossomed with her new family.
By the time she was seventeen, she had family, friends and interests—and a life that looked completely different from former life.
So many people helped to change Nakisha’s life—people who did most of the heavy lifting. My role was to divert the stream so that changes were possible.
A few years ago, I was reflecting on the people who had diverted the stream of my life. Then I began to contact them to thank them. I called or wrote to friends, former employers, spiritual directors and professors. But my ninth-grade English teacher proved a bit more difficult to track down. After numerous attempts, I let go.
Then, a few weeks ago, a Facebook message led me to this teacher. We chatted by phone, and I thanked her for the way she impacted my life. I reminded her that she had asked me to be the narrator for our school play and I thought she was delusional. Me? Read out loud? No way.
She was persuasive, and I did it.
Her faith in me gave me confidence and changed how I saw myself.