I want to tell you a story about friendship.
It’s a story I’ve told my kids dozens of times – a true story, that is about to open a new chapter.
Once upon a time, in a seventh grade science classroom, there was a new girl with blonde hair, unusual clothes and a funny accent. Her name was Hanna.
I remember how self-conscious Hanna looked when the teacher called her name while taking attendance, and the whole class turned to stare once they heard her speak. The teacher asked where she was from. “Sweden,” she answered shyly. The teacher coaxed her into saying something in Swedish, which sounded like nothing I had ever heard before.
On the playground after lunch, I was giggling with my friends when I noticed Hanna standing in the middle of the playground, completely alone. I pointed her out to my friends, and made one of the best decisions of my life. I walked over to her and introduced myself.
That was the beginning of one of the most remarkable friendships I’ll ever know. Hanna and I became inseparable. My friends welcomed her right into the center of our circle. Hanna introduced me to her family’s fascinating foods and customs, taught me to swear in Swedish (!) and joined my family on trips to see my grandparents and a vacation exploring the “wild west” of America. Even though we were far too old for this sort of thing, we built our own house out of a refrigerator box, adding wallpaper and artwork, and laughed ourselves silly as we squished our 12-year-old limbs into our “masterpiece.”
When it was time for her to return to Sweden at the end of the year, we exchanged tearful goodbyes and made a promise: no matter what was happening in our lives in the future, we would come to each other’s weddings.
Somehow that friendship survived all those years, even without today’s technology. We became pen pals, sending endless letters across the ocean. As a teen, I spent a heavenly part of one summer visiting her in Sweden. It was my first time leaving the United States.
We never forgot that promise we made. In April 2001, Hanna and her fiancé Ola came to my wedding. And a few months later, in August, my husband Ian and I went to their wedding in Sweden. I brushed up on my Swedish enough to make a toast to our friendship.
I don’t think there are words in either language that could sum up what our friendship has really meant.
Next month, I’ll have the chance to see my Swedish “kompis” (friend) for the first time in 13 years. We are both mothers of three now, and I can’t wait to catch up and write a new chapter.
When I tell my kids this story, I tell them how important it look out for someone who needs a friend.
“When you see someone who is different from you, or who looks like they need a friend, say hello,” I tell them.
Reach out, not in spite of your differences, but because of them.
You never know if that stranger could become your Hanna.