The bus stop crew was a haphazard gaggle of suburban stereotypes who never failed to defy them. In a modern twist, I was often outnumbered by the dads, bundling their kiddos off to school while mom was at work. The coffee was universal though. Big silver tumblers filled to the brim with the steaming elixir and me, with whatever cleanish mug I could find in our mad scramble out the door with no shoes on.
We were a motley crew – an Army LTC, a stay at home dad, an urban fire captain, a rocket scientist, two stay at home moms, a marathon-running nurse practitioner, and a patent examiner. We rotated through drop-off duties with differing degrees of regularity, but over 540 days of waving children onto the bus, they became my confidants, my rescuers and my friends.
Which leads to the following vignette:
We were weeks away from leaving and I was alternately cycling through all the lasts and remembering all the firsts. I knew my time is short and I lingered longer over conversations, repeating again and again how much I would miss my friends. It was in this vein, as we were moving towards the cars after another successful morning mission, that my particularly stoic friend Dave lifted his arm and moved toward me for a side hug. I was a little surprised, he’s not really the hugging type, but I sure am, so I thought to myself, “well, this is new, but I’ll roll with it.”
I put my arm around him, made some noise again about how much I would miss everyone, and leaned in for the hug.
With a perfectly straight face, Dave said in reply,
“Don’t forget your coffee mug.”
It was in that split second of crushing awkwardness that I realized he had lifted his arm to point at my coffee cup resting just behind me on top of the brick pillar mailbox marking our bus stop.
At this point there was nothing to do but commit, so I hugged him harder.
These are the friends that cared for my children, carpooled with us, put air in my tires, hauled my garbage, lent me their truck, fished rabbits out from under my van at the bus stop, listened to me vent, listened to me cry, butterfly taped my finger together, fed us impromptu meals on a Wednesday and waded over slippery rocks to the swimming hole. We weren’t always together on a Friday night, or over a weekend, but it turns out they were my constant in the often overwhelming chaos of suburbia in our nation’s capital.
Community matters. But it’s messy and ugly and hard and beautiful. And the trick is … You have to be a friend to make a friend. You have to be bare and transparent and vulnerable.You have to let people past the garbage on the porch, into your dirty house and your messy life and your moments where you feel like you can’t go on. And in the moment when you awkwardly hug Dave at the bus stop, well, you just lean in.
The reality is, when we left Northern Virginia, I was grieving the loss of the woods and the chickens and the grace that came along with my hallelujah chorus in the fall, but what I carry with me far more than the memory of a tree is the ragtag bunch that turned into my roots.