With a Little Help from Your Friends

With a Little Help from Your Friends

From Chicken Soup for the Canadian Soul

With a Little Help from Your Friends

True friendship hath a thousand eyes, no tongue; ‘tis like the watchful stars and just as silent.

Samuel James Watson, 1876

In 1994, Julie and Michael adopted a little girl named Veronika from a Russian orphanage and brought her home to Canada. My daughter Leah met Veronika in second grade and have been inseparable ever since. Leah loved Veronika’s high energy and happy, optimistic attitude toward life. She also loved how Veronika could always make her laugh.

As the years passed, the girls moved back and forth between our two homes. It was as if each had the benefit of two families, not just one. My wife Krys and I loved having Veronika in our home, and we watched with pleasure how she greeted each day as an adventure. She truly became a part of our family and often travelled with us on our family vacations.

When they both turned thirteen years old, Leah and Veronika decided to have their bat mitzvahs together—a ceremony and celebration in Judaism when children reach this age. The hall was full of members from both families who had gathered together to celebrate this special day.

After the ceremony, Veronika’s mom, Julie, delivered a toast to our daughter Leah and shared with the room the story of how they first met.

“Leah, this is something I should have thanked you for years ago. As most of you know, Veronika was adopted when she was in second grade. At the time, Michael and I were trying to get Veronika out of Russia, and it was a very difficult process.

“We were hoping she would be with us before summer began. Michael went to Russia for a couple of weeks, but unfortunately, he was not able to get her. So we anxiously waited throughout the summer. At the beginning of August, we were told it was time to come and do the paperwork and bring Veronika home. It would take about a week.

“This time, I went to Russia. But instead of a week, it turned out to be over a month. It was a heart-wrenching time for all of us, not knowing whether we would get Veronika out or not. But we were very determined that we would not leave Russia without her. Finally, on the September long weekend, we landed back on Canadian soil. I was home to my family and Veronika was home to her new family. As you may imagine, we were thrilled!

“The unfortunate part of this, though, was that Veronika had just three days with us before she had to start school. Needless to say, this was a very disturbing and upsetting time for her. So the first day of school I went with her and sat with her at the back of the room, and she was so scared she left bruises gripping my arm. The next day was basically the same. Eventually, she actually had the courage to go and join the rest of the class.

“I realized it would have to come to a point where I couldn’t keep going to school with her, and I would have to leave her. But this wasn’t so easily done, for Veronika had never had someone who would go with her and come back for her. So on Thursday, I was about to leave her there, but I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t find the courage to leave her. But Friday was the day I said she was going to stay at school and learn that I could leave and that I would come back for her.

“We went to the lunchroom. She ate her lunch and I was about to leave and again she started to cry. I bent down to her and she was holding on to my arm. I let go of her hand and I said, ‘Veronika, you have to stay and I’ll be back.’ Of course, with our language barrier this was hard to do and she was crying. I was ready to start to cry again.

“As she went to grab my hand again, instead of her having a chance to put her hand in mine, this beautiful girl came up to me and she slipped her hand in Veronika’s. She looked me straight in the eye and said, ‘You can go. I’ll take care of her. I promise, I won’t leave her side.’

“Leah, you have kept your word. You have never left my daughter’s side. This was such a difficult time for Veronika and me, and I don’t think you ever realized the important role you played for us that day in helping the two of us out. For me, being able to leave, to show Veronika I would come back. And for Veronika, to realize she wasn’t alone.

“I lay with Veronika one night in bed, and I asked her, what did she think of the school? She told me she thought it was another orphanage—a big building with lots of kids and few adults. Leah, you helped her through that time. You did this unselfishly, without even realizing how you were helping me and how you were helping Veronika.

“I have seen you with Veronika and with (Veronika’s sister and brother) Jade and Ryan and with your other friends. You are a remarkable young woman. And if I could have one wish for you, it would be to always have that open heart, to see when people need help, and not just to see it, but to do something about it. That is a true gift, Leah, because not everyone possesses that quality.

“So I want you to know that you hold a most special place in my, and Michael’s, heart. Family are relatives that you are born into. Friends are family that you choose. We are so honoured to have you as a part of our family.”

When Julie sat down, there wasn’t a dry eye in the place.

As any parent knows, there are moments in life when you are so proud of your kids your heart just about bursts. For Krys and I, this was one of them. For Leah, it was the greatest gift of all.

Lorrie Goldstein,
editor, The Toronto Sun
Toronto, Ontario

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