This weekend, Eric and I hosted my brother, Mark, and his two friends, young women, Joan from Colombia and Janita from Angola, who are both studying English here in America. Because their time in this country is limited to their five-month English immersion programs in Philadelphia, they are eager to see as much of the US as they can. When my brother offered to drive them to Boston to see the city and stay with us, they agreed and planned a short trip, arriving late Friday evening and departing earlier this afternoon.
Leading into the weekend, I was wary of having three extra people, including two strangers, crammed into our tiny, one bathroom apartment for the weekend. I am also always concerned about having enough time to finish my lesson planning for the upcoming week on the weekends. And when I finish teaching on a Friday, it sometimes feels as if I could lie on the couch all weekend without moving, and even then wouldn’t feel ready to go back to work on Monday. Originally, I had planned to tell my brother that he and his friends might be on their own to explore the city Saturday, while I would hole away in the library to do my prep work, meeting up with them in the evening for dinner.
But when I woke up Saturday morning, I really wanted to go along and share my city with Janita and Joan. It didn’t hurt that they had very sweetly presented me with a bouquet of pink lilies and white roses upon their arrival. We took the T downtown with plans to begin our walking tour at the Boston Public Garden. As we ascended the stairs from the Arlington T stop and Joan got her first look at the city, she grasped my hand and gave it a squeeze, exclaiming “Oohhhh, thank you, Laura! Thank you for bringing us here!” I am not kidding when I say this expression of gratitude formed a thick, on-the-verge-of-tears lump in my throat as I murmured something like, “Of course, you’re welcome.”
Our walk took us through the Garden and Boston Common. We moved slowly, with Joan and Janita making frequent stops for pictures, pictures in which we all five new friends crowded together, arms encircling each other, heads on shoulders, laughing and smiling.
There is a small outdoor ice skating rink on Boston Common, one that, in my nine years living in this city, I have never skated on. There was no line, and when we approached, Janita and Joan’s faces lit at the suggestion we skate for awhile. It seemed Janita had ever ice skated before, but on one of her slow skate-walks around the rink, hand clutching the wall, she laughed while telling me this was her dream, to ice skate in Boston.
The rest of the day took us to Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market for lunch and to see the Christmas tree, to the North End for cannoli and Italian cookies, and then to Haymarket, where Janita chose ingredients to make us dinner. Today, Eric and I led them on a tour of Harvard before they piled into my brother’s car for their long drive back to Philly. As we said goodbye, Janita and Joan hugged me tightly and told me they loved me. And even though I had known them less than 48 hours, it didn’t feel strange to say it back.
The weekend was tiring, but I do not feel tired. Rather, I am thankful for the sense of renewal and peace that I feel right now. Sometimes, it can begin to feel as if my world is very small. After all, I live in my little apartment with my husband and cat. The most frequent trip I make is to see my family in New Jersey, where I travel roads I know each inch of by heart. Every morning, I get into my little car and transport myself, isolated and alone, to my job, where I try, try, try to expand the minds of children growing up in a very small, and rather insulated, middle-class, mostly white town. I worry about small things, like what I will make for dinner or whether I will have enough time to go to the gym or whether I will have enough money left over at the end of the month to buy myself another winter sweater. And that is my life. But after this weekend with Janita and Joan, I appreciate that my life is actually much more than this. It is about my relationships with new friends and old, and the opportunities I have to learn about how our lives intersect and diverge from one another.