A few weeks in, I met this Korean woman. Clara was a whirlwind of energy. Her sometimes broken English bubbled forth in a singsong myriad of sweet notes and sonic booms. On top of that, her constant dialogue was peppered with bursts of high-pitched laughter. And, half the time, I had no idea what the joke was.
“What you do for a living, Juliet?”
“Oh, um. I am an adjunct professor at Columbia College.”
“OH!!! Dis is sooo good! You are so important! Now I am lucky to know you. Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!”
Honestly, she came on really strong. I pictured the safe interior of my car and wondered how soon it would be before I could escape this blur of energy. At the same time, her earnestness grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me out of my comfortable little hovel of fear.
“You will have lunch with me! I take you to Korean food. You know Super H? You can come tomorrow?”
So we went to lunch. She overwhelmed me some more but she also asked me a lot of questions. She learned that I have a background in social work, that I had a friend with breast cancer and I was training for the Avon Walk, and she leaned that I’d just dropped off a casserole for someone recovering form a surgery. She mined my strengths and announced, “We will start group to help parents!”
From her, I learned that, in addition to my daughter’s new teacher, there were two mothers and one more teacher struggling to fight cancer at this new school.
We started a support network for parents that, over the past three years, has grown to include eleven district schools.
But that’s not what my story is about.
Last night, I attended a meeting where various representatives from our district schools discussed their desire to be more inclusive of diverse families. “How can we get reluctant parents to participate?” One representative asked. I thought about me, standing on the school playground, eager to get back to my mini-van. How did I go from being afraid to step out of my comfort zone to the leader of a city-wide volunteer network?
I’d been Clara’d.
I guess a synonym for this verb would be “networked” and we all know how important networking is to our success as writers. Building connections helps us to call on those contacts when we want an audience, a critique, a job… But there is more to being Clara’d than just networking. She also truly cared about me. I could feel it. This wasn’t just a working relationship it was a friendship.
Clara moved away in the spring but she still calls and writes almost every week. When one of the original mothers who had cancer died this summer, Clara came back to play piano and sing at the funeral.
A few weeks ago, I had lunch with another mom who is doing dynamic, amazing things in our town. “You know,” she said. “I would never have gotten involved in all of this if it hadn’t been for Clara.”
My mouth dropped open.
“No, I was totally afraid of the PTA. Clara dragged me off of the playground and I started going to school meetings with her.”
“Me too!” I breathed. “I wonder how many of us are out there?”
But I knew the answer to that question. In my head, I ran through one of those movie montages of memories;
Driving a parent to a doctor’s appointment and laughing as we ate pumpkin seeds and threw the husks out the window.
Chatting with a mom after dropping off some much needed groceries.
Inviting a parent to a school event and offering to pick her up.
Building personal supports is the key to community. I didn’t go to that meeting last night alone. I don’t even blog alone. I do most things with friends. This is how most of us step out of our comfort zones, with a layer of support, a little bit of necessary armor, a friend on the playground.