You can know she is working on her second university degree, you can see her driving around the neighbourhood in her own car, you can go to her 21st birthday. But suddenly there she is, in another time and another place, confidently introducing herself to a class full of adults, talking about her disability like it is the weather or the cricket, self motivated and focused during the program like all of the other, well, adults. Suddenly there she is sorting herself out, getting up and dressed on her own and going to bed later than me, ordering cocktails or coffees or whatever she wants, checking to make sure I'm okay after a hectic day, and holding her own in conversations about educational psychology and disability reform and politics. There she is at the airport patiently explaining to the desk staff that she is a person requiring assistance and that no she did not require me to accompany her to the departure lounge (!).
It is hard to describe the way I feel about ES. There is respect and awe; respect for the journey (which I hope one day she will write about) that she has taken to get to this stage in her life and awe that despite it all she has turned out so wonderfully. There is pride and gratitude; pride as in I'm so proud to know this person and to introduce her as a friend, pride around seeing what she has become and what she has yet to become and gratitude for what I have learned and experienced by getting to be a part of her journey for the last decade. There is fierce big sister style protectiveness that has pretty much been outgrown and has been replace by friendship. There is the dance that has to be done whenever a relationship grows and changes which can be disconcerting until you remember that this is what people who see each other through life's transitions have to do to move into the next chapters together.
I see her fall on the beach at Takapuna - the first time she has fallen with me in all of our years of walking together - and see her stand up and brush the sand off of her jeans and laugh about getting wet. Years ago falling would have devastated her but now this young woman has learned how to fall without falling to pieces and knows how to bounce instead of break. I find myself wanting to write about her transition, realising that it is not my story to write, and hoping that one day she will tell the world how a fragile and emotionally wrought teenager psychologically trapped by her cerebral palsy finds her way into resiliency and rationality and confidence in adulthood. I listen to how she talks about how she thinks and feels, about the ups and downs of life in the last few months, and can't help but be amazed at how she now rolls with the punches instead of letting them knock her out, how she gives as good as she gets, and how she now understands her own self worth and is willing to fight for it.
She leaves, and the house is quiet, and I settle back into my routines wishing that I'd had a bit more time to talk to her and that work and life weren't so hectic. She leaves but isn't gone, like those wonderful people that dance in and out of your life over years and decades, and I realize that we have both watched each other grow up - and that kind of scares me, and I start to think about all of those other wonderful 'kids' making their way in the world of adults as wonderful young people. I am reminded again how lucky I am to be in a profession that allows me to be on or at least bear witness to these journeys, how lucky I am to be in a profession that allows me to get to know and love so many wonderful people, how lucky I am to be a conductor.
ES, 'I hope you don't mind, that I wrote down in words, how wonderful life is, with you in the world!'