Special Persons Day or Valentine’s Day, whichever you prefer.

Persons” is a strange word. It’s formal, bureaucratic, almost impersonal (ironically). I always want to tack on “of interest” after the word persons. How come it isn’t “Special People Day”?

On Valentine’s Day, I rushed into the gymnasium and met up with Sarah. She’s one of my favorite “people” in the whole wide world. Sarah has babysat my children for nearly a decade. Throughout that time, my children’s fascinations have changed a billion times. They’ve abandoned their baby blankets, desecrated tubs of formally cherished Little People, have changed allegiances to pop stars and television shows. But they never lose interest in Sarah. Sarah comes over every Friday night for 2 hours so my husband and I can go to Costco and glory in the cleanliness and the bright lighting and the huge tubs of cheese. And as the saying goes, “my kingdom for two hours of peace”.

When my second grader came home with the “Special Persons” sheet, she immediately said “Sarah!” She wrote her first name with big looping letters before I gently suggested she first check that Sarah could actually come to her school at 9:30 am on a random Tuesday morning.

“She’ll come,” she answered resolutely.

“She has to go to work,” I retorted.

“She’ll come,” she repeated.

“I’m going to text her.”

“Ok.” Literally, ten seconds later, “So she’s coming then?”

“It’s been 10 seconds. Let’s give her, I don’t know, a day.”

“A day?! Is she out of the country?”

“No. But, shocker, she may have other things to do right this very second.”

“What’s her address? We’re sending her a proper invitation.”

“That’s amazing and I’m so glad but I’m not giving you her address until I know she can come.” This conversation went on until Sarah let me know that she could, indeed, come to Special Persons Day, at which point, I’m fairly certain her invitation was already written, colored in, stickered to the very edges of a paper’s capacity and stuffed into an envelope.

I asked Sarah’s charge, “Isn’t ‘persons’ a strange word?”

Her response, “I think train is a strange word.”

“Awesome. Good talk.”

And as Sarah’s charge took at least seven different dresses out of her closet and began a detailed analysis of how much red is “too much red”, I immediately began debating the word “persons”.

According to the Google, “persons” and “people” have different Latin roots. “People” refers more to a nameless, faceless populace. “Persons” is rooted in persona, or the autonomous individual. Ok. Two points for “persons”.

From my understanding, persons become people when we forget that they are individuals with likes and dislikes, habits and hang-ups. It’s easy to dismiss persons as people when wandering through the grocery, or waiting on line at the DMV, or when I go about my day in a self-involved fog.

And so, as an army of 7 year olds came marching through the gymnasium clad in red and pink and white and black, I looked around at the well-lived faces of parents, grandparents, family members, care givers, neighbors, and friends. Each weathered face beamed at the sight of this Army of Love as they sang songs spanning the spectrum of loyalty, devotion, friendship. And phones were held high to record every millisecond of this tribute.

As one well-pressed khaki clad announcer said, a good person makes life a whole lot easier. Because as we all know, life can be rough. But from the beaming looks of pride, happiness, and encouragement, it seemed to me that the well-lived faces around me had made life fun, meaningful, educational, and easier to each child on the stage.

I stared at my second grader. She was clad in a whole lot of red velvet. Her well-brushed hair was held neatly by a turquoise headband. [Turquoise was a deliberate choice. You know, for a “pop of color”]. This 7 year old never let on that she had learned so many songs. Not just the lyrics but the sign language! She didn’t come home and whine that she needed help or that she didn’t want to do it. No. This was a very special tribute to a very special person in her individual life. Sarah. And she was going to do it right.

After a remarkably complex performance, Sarah (and I) were invited back to her classroom for a personal recitation detailing why Sarah is, indeed, “special”. Of course, upon entering the classroom, my daughter ran right past me and hugged Sarah and led her to a chair of honor. I was told to stand in the back.

As I listened to each child read their public declaration of appreciation, I formally decided the name of the day can’t be “Special People” day because people, as a whole, are not special. They are nameless, faceless, a mass of humanity. And people don’t teach a child to grow a garden. People don’t make a child laugh uncontrollably. People can’t love unconditionally.

But a person can teach a child how to make a cat’s cradle out of bakery string. A person can play monopoly until the sun goes down. A person can build a Lego castle and not cringe when a child decides a tornado is going to destroy it. A person can let you crack the eggs in the brownie batter. A person, one lone person, can make the monotony of life joyous, electric, and filled with love.

That one person, that Sarah, makes our world better, child by child, and memory by memory.

After the presentations, my daughter went from table to table trying to figure out how many cookies she could possibly stuff into her mouth before I told her to stop. Naturally, she made a plate for Sarah too. And told me, rather bluntly, “You should leave Mom. This event is really for me and my special person.

Anne Foray