Way back in May (seriously, do you even remember May, cause it feels like it was years ago now), I posted the following story about a miraculous interaction that I’d witnessed between Brooke and her school’s custodian.
If you remember the story, skip ahead to the ***, otherwise, please join me in its retelling …
We had arrived at school early for Brooke’s parent-teacher (and aide) conference. But for a few staff members preparing for the open, the halls were deserted.
Luau, Katie and I stood by as Brooke began her morning locker routine. She sat on the floor, opened her backpack and took out her folder. After three years of practice, she can do it all by herself.
Luau and I spotted the school custodian down the hall and both waved. Luau shouted, “Good morning, Mr E!” We were all smiles as he walked by with a friendly hello.
He was five feet past us when I heard the first one. A deep, gravelly, “Babe,” that came out of nowhere. I looked at Luau, wondering if I’d finally lost it, but he had the same look on his face. We shrugged.
With the next one, there was no question. Once again, all he said was, “Babe.” This time Katie chuckled. Luau and I again looked at each other, searching for an explanation. There was no one else in the hallway.
Every five feet or so, he said it again. He was walking down the hall saying, “Babe. Babe. Babe.”
With a laugh, I yelled down to him, “Um, Mr E? You OK over there?”
He didn’t turn around, but yelled over his shoulder, “Listen!”
And then he did it again.”Babe.”
Um, I’m listening, Mr E, I thought. But I’m lost.
As if reading my mind, he said it again. “Listen!”
So I did. And the next time he said, “Babe,” I heard it. The tiny response that had been there each and every time. Into her locker, Brooke had said, “Bee.”
Three or four more times, before finally disappearing around the corner, Mr E said, “Babe.” And each and every time, Brooke said, “Bee.” Apparently, they had a thing.
Luau and I stood in the hallway, slack-jawed. Katie was giggling.
“Brooke, honey,” I asked. “Do you and Mr E do that every time you see each other?”
She never stopped doing what she was doing, but answered my question with a quiet, “Yeah.”
I talk a lot about awareness. I talk about compassion and understanding and inclusion. I talk about seeing people – really stopping and SEEING people. I talk about reaching out and making connections. They are big, overwhelming, life-changing concepts. That sometimes have the simplest execution.
This man has found a way to connect with my girl. A silly little routine. A single word, split in half. A script. Heaven knows how it may have gotten started. It is nonsensical at best. But through its repetition, my girl is seen. With one word, she is told that another adult is there. That school is safe and that she is OK.”
Yesterday morning, we presented Mr E with a small gift. We’ve always gotten him a little something at the holidays and again at year-end – tiny tokens of gratitude for his service to the kids. But this year was different. All in all, this year’s gift cost less than any that preceded it, but I’m pretty sure that it means a whole lot more.
I asked Brooke to sign her name to her work, but she refused. “I’m on it,” she said, pointing to her image. It was a hard point to argue.
When Brooke handed it over, Luau told Mr E the story, explaining that it wasn’t signed, but that we were certain that he’d know who it was from. Mr E looked at it, pointed to the picture of Brooke and said, “Of course it’s signed. She’s right there.”
There are precious souls in this world who just get it. No need for explanations, they just get it. And for them, I am eternally grateful.
“Babe–Bee” by Brooke, 2011