Living Like Heather

September 6, 2008
The summer before my senior year of high school, I realized I had a lot to learn before I went to college.

So I started hanging out with a three year old.

Heather is the youngest sister of a few friends from church. As I began to spend time with her teenage siblings, Heather and I formed a special bond. She hid with me when the “big kids” were playing ‘hide-and-seek’ at her house, loudly called “GOOD-BYE!” across the church parking lot as we left each Sunday, refused to watch her brother go off the high dive unless I sat at the edge of the pool with her, and quietly came up behind me to give me a hug while I chatted with her sister. Though the rest of her family would urge not to “bother Lizz anymore” or to “let Lizz have some time with the big kids, too”, I never got tired of her huge eyes and her slightly guilty smile. Heather really changed me that summer. I learned (or maybe relearned) about perpetual joy, unconditional love, and unwavering faith.

Heather seems always to be smiling. Her face is permanently plastered with an adorable grin that usually looks pretty mischievous. Whenever I sit down to have a heart-to-heart with her, there’s usually a fabulously exciting story just bursting from her lips. She’s been excited about everything, from the green butterfly her mom spotted at work earlier that day to the fact that she’s getting a puppy (or so she’s decided) next year when her sister goes to college. Heather can always find something to be happy about -- this three-year-old girl has an unconquerable zeal for life. Each time I see her eyes light up as she describes (rapid-fire) her latest adventure, I am reminded that I, too, should have that joy. Heather is nondiscriminatory; she can find goodness and excitement in almost any situation. She’s shown me that I can’t “have a good day”, I can make a good day. I’ve begun to see the simple pleasures I can get out of every single day, and it makes life a lot sunnier.

Of course, one of the hugest things I’ve found joy in is Heather, because when someone loves you the feeling is incomparable. No matter what’s on my mind when I open the doors to church, the sight of that sweet girl dashing towards me with outstretched arms makes my day. I love her hugs and kisses, the way she cuddles up to me, how she reaches up to hold my hand in hers every so often. She tells me regularly that I can come to her house, or be at her birthday party (“even though I’m not in her family”). Though sometimes I don’t pay attention to her, if I’m talking to a friend or engrossed in a card game, Heather beams at me as though I’m the greatest thing in the world. It doesn’t matter. We’re friends, and that’s enough. She understands, in some way, that I may not always be able to talk with her or be her buddy. It’s okay. She is a constant reminder to me that real love overlooks flaws. I’m so quick to judge, quick to doubt my friendships and bonds. But really, my friends and family don’t need that. They need me to love in Heather-like innocence. They need love that is unrestricted and often-expressed.

Heather and I were spending an evening with her little friend Garrett and her eighteen-year-old brother Andrew when I decided once and for all that I wanted to be more like Heather. The four of us had been at the local playground when Andrew suggested that we take a walk in the woods behind the park. Darkness had begun to fall, and Garrett and Heather started to look nervous. While Garrett gathered sticks to protect himself from monsters, Heather looked up with fearful eyes and asked what would happen if we got lost. Andrew and I calmly reassured her that we’d be fine; Andrew had been here plenty of times before and besides, he could protect us against any “bad guys”. She didn’t look too convinced, but grasped onto my hand and didn’t say anything else.

“What if there are bad guys? What if we get don’t know how to get back?” Garrett brandished his sticks at imaginary foes, echoing Heather’s concerns of a moment ago. Before Andrew or I could answer, Heather gave him a Look. “We’ll be okay, because Andrew will protect us.” She was so sure, so willing to trust, and it shocked me. How did she know? She didn’t know if Andrew and I had been telling the truth. She had no idea if he had any clue about what was or was not in these woods. And yet…Heather trusted. Our word was good enough for her. And standing there, holding her hand, it hit me how often I do not trust. Whether it’s a group project or a friendship, I feel as though I have to do it all myself. I have such a hard time letting go of the reigns and acknowledging that maybe somebody else is capable of handling things. I stress myself out too much, trying to be everything for everybody, trying to be Supergirl. But Heather was okay with the fact that somebody bigger than her was in control, and so should I be. I may not be able to see the path’s end or the monsters that may be hiding there -- but I should be able to trust those who do.

Life has been so much richer since Heather and I have become friends - I may have all the exciting things in my life, college essays and jobs and driving and crushes, but Heather has all the necessary things in hers. Life tends to want to make a trade: what matters to Heather for what matters to me now. But in a world where growing up is scary and confusing, Heather’s taught me that the best way I can deal with growing up is to fight it -- fight it with childlike love, joy, faith.

She’ll grow up someday, and she’ll be tall and beautiful and brilliant. But even then, little Heather will always be in my mind, reminding me that life is too short to not be a three year old.

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