Six Degrees

I had a dream last night about an old friend of mine, Krista. I was helping her with a move, stationed at the new house to help unpack while others went to bring another load from the old place. While I was wandering among the boxes stacked in the garage, a family of about 10 wandered into the stacks, picking up items and asking how much they cost. They thought it was a yard sale. As I was trying to keep them from walking off with Krista’s family heirlooms, Krista appeared, and in her typical fashion, welcomed the family as if they were old friends. She was open to their suggestions of purchasing some of her things, even showing them hidden items they might like. Then she started playing the violin for them. Or viola, I guess, since that’s what she used to play.

I watched her being her kind, generous self with these complete strangers and marveled at how the Dream Krista was exactly like the Real Krista.

I’ve known Krista since I was in junior high, when she was Krista Norris. She was, by her own account, initially friendly to me because I was new to the school, having moved over from the Catholic school to start seventh grade. Krista knew and was known by everyone, but not in a “Queen Bee” way, just in her own way of being kind to people. Everyone knew and loved Krista. So she saw this shy kid feeling out of place and befriended me, and her friendship allowed me to ease into life in public school. We remained friends through high school, where I was often simply known as Krista’s nameless best friend; as a really shy person, that was okay with me.

In junior-high ritualistic fashion, I attended many sleepovers at her house, and she at mine occasionally. Her house was my preference, though, with her parents as welcoming and kind as she was. Mrs. Norris, a true southern belle, gave me the only nickname that has ever stuck (Megery), and listened with an attentive and non-judgmental ear. Mr. Norris had a warmth and humor that set in my head the way I wanted dads to be. I’m sure there were things about their family I didn’t know, as there are with every family, but in my childhood memory, the Norrises were my model.

I can hear Krista’s voice now, warning me not to put people on a pedestal. I know, I know…

What Krista’s family showed me was a different way for families to be. My family, vexed as it was by mental illness and isolation, often functioned poorly, badly regulated emotions swinging us from drama to drama. My brothers were often physically violent with each other, sometimes with me and my sister, and I crept into my shell of books and music and nature. My parents did the best they could with what they had, but life in my house wasn’t peaceful or loving. Certainly not supportive. In Krista’s family, I had the chance of feeling like I was part of a healthy group of people who loved each other.

Being at Krista’s house on the weekend meant witnessing the constant flow of people visiting the house. The family ran a funeral home right in the heart of town, and while that’s not the kind of business that encourages repeat customers, this family seemed to know everyone in town–but not in the snooty “WE know EVERYONE, darling” way. They knew people who had lived in the homeless shelter two doors down, and those who had complex medical issues, and mentally challenged people, and yes, some people in local politics, but that was never how they knew them. They were involved in church and volunteer work, and if a call came in that someone needed help, they jumped into action, connecting people in need with people who could help. Devout Christians, they lived what Christianity preaches: kindness, service, acceptance, love.

Krista was my first non-Catholic friend, and I was so sad that she was going to go to hell for being a Methodist. But it was in getting to know her family better that I started realizing that non-Catholics weren’t doomed, that people of other faiths could be good, and that the whole basis for my religious teaching (Catholic=GOOD&Heaven Bound, all others=EVIL) was flawed.

As an adult, I now realize how lucky I was to have had contact with Krista’s family. They showed me what it means to be loving, open, to share what you have even if it isn’t a lot, to accept people for who they are and not because they match your lifestyle or way of thinking. They weren’t afraid to talk about different philosophies, to argue religion, but stood their ground firmly, as people rooted in their faith tend to do.

I didn’t end up being the same kind of people Krista’s family was. I hewed to the Christian path for many years, but my life took me and my beliefs in another direction. But I tried like hell to do what Krista’s mom did for me: be kind, loving, open, and accepting for my kids and their friends, no matter who they were. I’ve tried to be just as charitable and giving as I saw them being, and to step into service when I have had the chance.

It wasn’t until recently that I realized the effect Krista’s family had on me, and on the adult I have become. I am so grateful to have been allowed to get to know them, these truly good people, and to learn from them how to be an adult and how to be a parent. My children were lucky too, in that they got to know the Norrises in their childhoods, and knew these kind people as de facto grandparents. There is so much love that stems from Mr. and Mrs. Norris, and they shared it with my children. And I am so grateful.

Krista has created a life that looks similar to her parents. Her husband and she are constantly surrounded by their kids and their kids’ friends, and are involved in the community in a small business right in the center of their town. They are purveyors of coffee, kind of the opposite of funeral homes, but they serve with such love and commitment that they touch everyone around with the same kind of light and joy.

We joke that the world is connected not through six degrees of Kevin Bacon, but six degrees of Mrs. Norris, which can also be applied to Krista (Norris) Andersen. Everyone seems to know them, and everyone who knows them loves them. And with good reason. They willingly share their love with the world.

I don’t know why that dream happened to me last night, but I am so glad to be reminded of this family that touched me in ways they probably don’t even know. And I’m glad that now I have the chance to tell them. Thank you, Norris family, for showing me how to live a life of love.

A rose for Mrs. Norris

A rose for Mrs. Norris

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