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Cari Hurley: It’s a wonderful day to celebrate friendship

Valentine’s Day often brings to mind images of candy, flowers and expensive dates. However, the holiday originally started to commemorate St. Valentine’s devotion to love, and I plan to celebrate all of the love I have in my life today.

Though I will be thinking of my wonderful boyfriend, Adam, I will also be remembering the start of another loving relationship this year: the beginning of my friendship with Abigail, a 20-year-old woman with special needs.

The first time I met Abby, I was serving her high school class after my freshman year of college. Though communication was difficult to initiate because of her physical limitations, I sensed a connection with her. That connection and my fondness for her blossomed as my internship progressed. Consequently, I was thrilled when Abby’s mom and dad offered me a job working for Abby in her home.

At first, I constantly worried about making mistakes, especially with regard to her physical needs. However, she quickly made me feel at ease. One of the funniest moments we’ve had was when her health care equipment became detached. I began frantically Google-searching everything I could find about her equipment and tried to keep Abby and myself calm.

Despite my panic, Abby laughed hysterically for almost 10 minutes, to the point where her eyes flooded with tears and her face turned as red as a tomato. At that moment, I realized that while keeping her safe was of utmost importance, being a friend was just as essential.

Since then, we’ve gotten into so many other shenanigans. Together, we’ve played countless games of Big Trouble, read several great books and made many crafts. But the best part of our friendship is getting to know her. Outsiders might assume that she cannot communicate because she uses a wheelchair and is unable to talk. They don’t know that she says a lot if you’re there to listen.

It’s true that we use a lot of “yes” and “no” questions, but we have great conversations about everything from crushes to music, especially because I feel we are connected by this inexplicable wavelength of understanding.

The most important part of her communication is that she can always keep me smiling. I remember one day early on, she was listening to her iPod and gently set her hand down to rest on my lap, a gesture that felt like the ultimate form of respect and trust.

I’ve been “working” for Abby for about eight months and have begun feeling a sense of pride in her accomplishments. This winter, she started skiing and has loved rushing down the slopes. We’ve watched the home video of her zooming down the hill countless times, and I am overjoyed that she has braved the winter elements and embraced the adventure. I do not ski with Abby, but I nevertheless hope that maybe one sliver of our time together helped her accomplish that feat.

I know that her friendship has brought abundant joy to my life. Working for my “boss” has also helped me to truly be myself.

Though it may seem strange that I am thinking of a friend on Valentine’s Day, it is only natural for me to write an unconventional valentine for Abby, who has been diligently creating valentines for her family members.

Valentine’s Day is about love, and certainly friendship is the greatest love a person can find. Happy Valentine’s Day, Abs.