During our junior year in high school my triplet sisters and I met a girl named Angel. Her special education classroom was near our lockers so we’d cross paths often. Angel poked each of us on the shoulder and kindly said, “I Angel. Who you?” This either meant, who are you, or how are you. We’d answer both for good measure.
We never asked for specifics about Angel’s developmental delays. It didn’t matter.
Every week I witnessed fellow classmates respond to Angel’s questions and acts of kindness in a repulsive way. The stuck up boys and girls would laugh and ignore or laugh and make fun. Peers tested her by answering with fake names or giving fake phone numbers. She’s too intelligent for their games and always responded, “No” to lies.
We gave Angel our real phone number. We didn’t mind the possible 10 phone calls a night to our landline after school. One of us would answer and we’d hear, ”What’s up?” and “Tag you’re it. I quit.” After a while of evening phone calls and conversations at school my sisters and I began to see Angel opening up past a few repetitive phrases.
Our friendship began to bloom. Angel became our number one fan at softball games. We conversed daily on the phone. We had many sleepovers. Basically, we did all the things friends do.
My sisters and I were lucky enough to share the same lunch hour with our new friend. Angel sat with her peers from class; however, after finishing lunch she often walked around like the social butterfly she is. She visited many tables and familiar faces, but no one ever asked her to join their lunch.
One day we asked Angel to join our lunch table. She changed our mundane 30 minutes of picking at bad cafeteria food (and gossiping most likely) into laughter and good times.
After our high school teachers and principal noticed our regular hangouts with Angel, they said with a smile, “Good for you for hanging out with her.” Two main things disturbed me about this statement of praise.
One: Some of those teachers and the principal didn’t even know Angel’s name. Two: No, I shouldn’t be praised for spending time with a fellow human being. A fellow human being who needs authentic friendship just like any other being. A fellow human being who needs love, support, conversation and acknowledgment beyond the classroom.
My sisters and I just grinned and nodded in response to the adults we were supposed to respect. We knew in our hearts that Angel was the person making us better.
Ten years have passed since we met Angel for the first time in the high school halls. We are not acquaintances. We are not friends. We are sisters. Today our family would not be the same without her.
I’ve never met a kinder soul. She is a light to every person she meets. Her heart is big and her forgiveness is quick. I am beyond blessed to have Angel in my life.
Even though we live six hours away today, we get to see her for two-week long visits. Daily video chats, text messages and phone calls fill in the gaps of absence. Angel is an amazing aunt to my 7-month-old daughter. She is an irreplaceable part of our family.
The not so surprising fact about interacting with another human being is deep down we are all the same. No matter our outward appearance, our genetic makeup, or our upbringing, we crave love and we crave meaningful connections.
My past high school teachers and principal should have told Angel, “Good for you for hanging out with Jessica,” because I find myself undeserving of Angel’s sisterhood all the time. I can be forgetful, short tempered, and restless. Angel looks past all of my downfalls to see and appreciate who I really am, much like she does with every person she knows.
If only we could all be a lot more like Angel.