Our students were invited to interview and write down the bones of fellow students' stories,--refugees, immigrants and students whose family members had never attended college. These students were pinpointed and invited to join a class that focused on helping them achieve their higher education goals.
The bus ride took 40 minutes to a suburb known for its poverty and ethnic diversity.
When one hears a person's story, walls crumble.
My interviewee was a girl with bright red-dyed hair. I may have appeared to her as just your average white middle aged woman with dark roots past the need of a touch-up.
Just two or three questions in, I knew I was sitting next to a winner.
Less than a year ago, her mother went downstairs to check on her father. She called the grandmother down to see what was wrong. He wasn't moving. The mother was in shock and didn't recognize her husband had passed away.
An autopsy revealed that he'd died from a rare form of heart disease and the disease was genetic. My interviewee and her brother were tested: MRIs, stress tests, echocardiograms, but the disease stayed hidden. Finally, through a test (I don't recall which one), doctors discovered both she and her little brother had the disease.
The discovery changed her family's life. Her life.
Life as she knew it was immediately restricted. No running. Certainly no swimming alone. Medication, and the most sobering--knowing her life was tenuous. Ah, but she had a grip on that life. She writes for the school paper; she sews for her fashion design class; her family time is sacred, and their loyalty and devotion to one another is supreme. I met those friends and they were as varied as candies in a candy shop.
I would have voted for my friend if she were running for president.
When it was time for her to go back to class, I held on to her a little longer than I should have, and she heard the crack in my voice.
"Are you going to be alright?" she asked.
I would be more than alright, because I had met her.