I ran into my date. Quite literally, almost. I was running up a hill in the rain, trying my hardest not to miss my nephew’s first college crew race. Standing on the bridge was an attractive older man wearing a purple baseball cap of my alma mater and my nephew’s future alma mater. I had no choice but to talk to him. I was carrying a purple umbrella, after all. It was a moment of immense grace amidst the stress and uncertainty of my international adoption not finalizing.
The only thing wrong with the scene on the bridge was that I was wearing ballerina flats on a fall morning that had whisked in some rather unexpected rain. I’d left the house eager to get to the starting line when my sister-in-law called and told me I had to drive to the finish line to watch the race. By the time I got turned around, there was no hope of stopping back home to change my shoes, which I had chosen, along with my straight jeans and fleece jacket, with the sole purpose of not embarrassing my eighteen year old nephew. Once I parked, I had less than two minutes to get to the Chicago River. So I ran in the rain in my ballerina flats.
By the time I made it to the bridge, some six very long blocks later, I believe I may have been panting. My eyes were watering, and my feet were all but frozen and very wet. My ballerina flats turned out to be an easy conversation starter as were my nephew and his team rallying to the finish line. Over the next two hours, as more teams raced and we stood in the heated clubhouse, I would be asked to dinner. My first instinct was to say no. The timing of it made absolutely no sense. I was weeks away from going to Haiti to bring home my son. But something in me said yes instead.
At 45, a date is a bit like an endangered species. Few and far between. But the ease with which we connected reminded me that even cacti bloom in the desert. I casually mentioned my plans for the evening to my nephew. He seemed pleased. But when I looked down at my phone and realized that the contact information was not saved, my heart sank. How could I get a date and lose a date all in one day? My nephew tried mightily to resurrect the number for me but to no avail. “It happens, Aunt Karen,” he said thoughtfully. “It happens.”
Thankfully, as we were driving back to campus, a text came through from the man in the purple hat. I asked my nephew to read it to me. He sighed audibly. He may have even rolled his eyes. “He’s old school, Aunt Karen.” “Old school?” I inquired. “He uses punctuation.” (I have to say I kind of like that in a man.)
One really bad movie, though, and a few dinners later it became apparent that we were on rather divergent life trajectories. But what stuns me to this day is that the man in the purple hat held the key to the final immigration question that had escaped me, my adoption agency, and the rounds and rounds of emails I’d sent and phone calls I’d made. His colleague was a premier immigration attorney and he gave the final word on my son’s case that enabled me to sleep at night. And it only came to me because I said yes when I could have just as easily said no.
Fast forward three months and I am reminded of yet another yes that has born great fruit. I took my son to a Haitian mass last Sunday. It felt so good to be back. I still remember the first few times I went, well over a year ago now, and how terribly shy I’d felt. I didn’t know anyone. I didn’t speak Kreyol or French. And I wasn’t entirely sure how they would feel about me adopting a Haitian child. So I made it a point to talk to the ushers. My dad was an usher for over thirty years, and I learned at a young age that the ushers know everyone. Sure enough, in no time at all, whenever I pulled open those heavy wooden doors to join the congregation, they smiled and nodded in approval.
Last Sunday was no different. My son and I slid into the pew next to Colette who teaches me Kreyol and has become in many ways my son’s Haitian grandmother. The mass is longer than most, with lots and lots of singing, so I held him close as we swayed to the music and tried to sing along. At the sign of peace, the ushers came over to shake his hand and ended up giving him high-fives, which made my son giggle and all of us laugh. When I told him in Kreyol that the adults and children, who had moved into the main aisle, were hugging and kissing one another, he pointed in that direction and said, “Ale.” Go. So we did.
Then to my surprise, after communion, we were asked to come to the front of the church. The deacon, I was told, was going to announce us. He waved us up to the podium and with a big smile on his face, pointed toward the microphone. “Mesi,” I said shyly. Thank you. But then I looked out at all those familiar smiling faces and realized how much they had journeyed with me to this moment. My Kreyol came back, and I told them how happy I was to come and pray with them. And, that I wanted my son to speak Kreyol. “Souple,” I added, touching my hand to his face, “pale Kreyol ak li.” Please speak Kreyol with him.
And that’s when my son’s homecoming came to life. After mass, young and old came up to him. They cooed and clucked, tickled and high-fived, hugged and kissed him. “Fantastik!!” one of Colette’s good friends said as she wrapped her arms around both of us and kissed my cheeks. “Come back next week!” My son’s shy smile, which really says more please, spread across his face and lit up his eyes. I didn’t understand everything that was said to him, but joy and delight have a language all their own. And we both soaked it in.
I’m no expert on how God works. The divine is a bit of a mystery, after all. But it seems to me that the more you throw your heart open, the more you can say yes to life and to possibility—however shy and hesitant it may be—the more those “yeses” come back to you tenfold.