by EMILY ORTON
“Do you know my name?” Lily asks.
“No, what’s your name?” they respond.
“My name is Lily. What’s you’re name?” she says and they’re off to the races. This happens wherever we go whether it’s the subway, the library or a park. If there are people around, Lily will usually find them and try to speak to them. It’s like she was born familiar with every human being on the planet. When she sees a person, she wants to catch up with them.
On one road trip, we pulled up to an historic site at the same time as another car and Lily started singing, “New friends! New friends!” Another time she let go of my hand to touch the knees, hands and face of a homeless man hunched on a park bench. She looked him in the eyes. She asked his name. She loved him and left him smiling. When I take Lily on the subway, I expect to meet my neighbors. It is typical for her to find out the names of all the people sitting next to her and across from her and introduce them to each other. She’s especially thrilled when any of them are actually related. “So you are his cousin. You are her father. You are his sister.”
Lily believes everyone is connected. If they aren’t connected, she’ll be happy to link them up. Most often this takes the form of a sudden proposal. Like the guy, Steve, she sat next to one night on the A train. She learned his name and found out what was in the large paper bag at his feet: a steak dinner. He was an actor working at a nice steakhouse. She linked arms with Steve and announced to the entire car that she and Steve were getting married and they were all invited to the wedding. Last summer she met half a dozen gorgeous college girls at the beach. She had all of them playing Duck, Duck, Goose within 10 minutes and when their boyfriends arrived, she claimed one for herself and promised to find another man for the single woman. “Come on,” she said taking her hand and leading her through the ocean to another group of men, “I’ll get you a boyfriend.”
Above is Tyler's house. Lily introduced us to Tyler in Squamish, BC. That smiling guy is Dave from North Carolina. We met him in Idaho and Lily stole his glasses for this photo. On this road trip she’s introduced us to people from all over the country and all over the world who were just minding their own business at a neighboring campsite or picnic table. We met a lovely couple from Ireland. We met a mother and daughter from Ontario. We met Jason from Baltimore. Within minutes Lily ascertained, “He has no wife, no kids and no dog.” She tried to help him set up his tent. We met Josh who was homeless living in a bush in a public park. We met four men and one woman who swam with Lily in the glacial run-off that is Lake Louise. On the path back, half a dozen people stopped to tell Lily how brave she was to get in the water and check if she had warmed up.
Sunday we went to church with some friends. Once a year the children present songs and talks to the whole congregation. It happened to be the day we were visiting. As soon as Lily realized what was happening, she started crying. She wanted to participate, but I knew the children had been practicing for weeks and they filled every chair. The woman behind us was leading the music and she invited Lily to stand next to her and be the surprise guest conductor for every song. After each number, Lily and Chelsea would sit down and high-five and say to each other, “You and me,” then wait for the next musical number.
Lily isn’t my only amazing child. I have five who teach me joy, humanity and show me how to live a better life. Lily isn’t always happy, loving and cheerful. And there are downsides to her friendly nature. Keeping a close watch on her involves the entire family. Sometimes I imagine life would be more predictable and sometimes more convenient if Lily were a typically developing child. But I can’t imagine that life would be nearly as much fun.
Last week we took Lily to Comicon in Salt Lake City. It was a meet and greet free-for-all and Lily had a new question for all of her new friends, "Do you want a picture with me?" Of course they did.
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