There were about 27 of us tonight at the food bank, and they broke us into small teams to sort donated grapefruits into Keep piles and Toss piles, and then box up the Keeps for distribution.
Some big co-ed group of Mormon kids was there for a youth activity. And when I say "kids," I mean kids. No one over maybe fifteen, still naturally dividing themselves into Boy teams and Girl teams, gravitating to the opposite sides of the room, giggling at each other across the tile floor. Some of the more flirtatious boys lobbing rotten grapefruits like smoke grenades across the room, making the girls giggle and the grown-ups groan.
I worked quietly by myself, headphones in, a new audiobook guiding me through the two hours on my feet. Mushy grapefruits, the consistency of zombie heads, get thrown judiciously into the small basket at my feet, but the remaining 90% of edible ones are placed gently and lovingly into boxes stacked like Tetris pieces on pallets, later to be hauled away.
A quiet, awkwardly shaped girl, likely recently assaulted by the double onset of puberty and self-consciousness, stood next to me.
"Can I help you sort yours?" she said, wiping her nose on the sleeve of her hoodie.
"Sure." I paused the audiobook so I could hear her, but she fell quickly to silence I can't imagine outside of a tomb.
I remember early-teenage girls in high school being this quiet. Not just the girls, for that matter—any boisterous bravado I somehow summoned in those years was all bluster, and everyone knew it—and I recalled how sensitive these creatures are. They don't want anything but someone to take an interest, so I tried to.
"My name's Andy. What's you—"
"Did you go to college?" She asked me this, her face lighting up like it had been hit with a flare gun.
"Yeah," I said. "Why?"
She pauses and stares at a grapefruit like she'd found it in a museum. "I want to go to college."
"Yeah. Medical school."
"Want to be a doctor?"
"Yeah," she says. "And there's nothing I want more."
And right then, I saw this girl, the thoughtful one in the hoodie who was a little self-conscious about how she looked, the one who hadn't come with a big group of friends but to volunteer her time to fill empty stomachs and weary hearts, and I saw you.
This is what I wanted to tell her:
You remind me of someone incredibly important to me, and you're going to conquer the world in a way that Napoleon couldn't have imagined.
and just like her, you're going to change lives and save lives and rebuild lives and encounter enough broken people to make into a lifetime of jigsaw puzzles and they'll all be better for knowing you
and one day you'll meet someone who loves you like the sun shines and who wants nothing but just to be by your side, witness to the brilliance you'll shine upon the world
so do me and everyone else that's ever lived a favor:
know that what you have to offer is better, stronger, and more beautiful than you can even begin to imagine.
But, instead of being a creepy dude in his late-20s saying weird shit to a tween, I just said:
"You'll be a great doctor. And don't let anyone tell you otherwise."
And I am so. damn. excited. for her to hear that from someone, the one who kisses her goodnight and tells her that he loves her and can't help but look at her like the sunrise.
Because I know just how he'll feel.