by Nov 30, 2023

A Gift Lifetimes in the Making

A Gift Lifetimes in the Making

I was in eighth grade eating lunch alone, near the end of a long table. A woman sat down across from me, a few feet to my right. She looked straight ahead. Her dark hair was a bit shiny, rather curly and just long enough to frame her honey almond cheeks. I did not know her, but I knew of her. She taught special education and coached basketball. The cafeteria had rows of plain brown tables flanked with plastic yellow, orange, and pastel green chairs. The dull and constant rumble of kids’ voices mixed with frequent screeching of metal chair feet across linoleum. A moist scent of cafeteria pizza and boiled corn hung around us like an invisible fog.

The woman looked me in the eye. “I want you to play basketball for me,” she said. Her striking hazel eyes spilled over with firmness and love. “I’ll teach you. We meet on Tuesdays at Dade Street Gym, just a couple minutes’ walk from here.”

I felt special in her presence. It’s hard to explain, but I felt a warm feeling of home, instantly.

She could have asked me to play pinochle and I would have wanted to join in.

Little did I know that the love, nurturing, and guidance that I yearned for was sitting across from me right then. Little did I know what I was agreeing to. Little did I know how she would shape my life. Little did I know that Coach Taylor would become my second Mom. It’s been over 30 years since our short conversation in the cafeteria and I’ve never called Coach Taylor anything but “Coach,” although she is so much more.

My childhood isn’t something I speak of often. There were great times early on, and there were long rough stretches too. Coach took me in and gave me a family at a time when I felt alone. She taught and challenged me, and bathed me in love. I was comforted by being part of the deep bonds among her large, extended family, and nurtured by aunts and great aunts, uncles and grandmothers and cousins.

An important context for my story is that I was a young White girl who was fully accepted and loved in a Black family. I was not seen as different by my adopted family, and then in public spaces I experienced the difference the world sees. At a young age I got to see the truth, beauty, and intelligence of our humanness, as well as the heartache created by discrimination and the illusion of separateness.

The Gift

Fast forward to when I was 23. I had just graduated from Florida Atlantic University with a Bachelor’s Degree. A few family and friends met at Coach Taylor’s house in Fort Lauderdale for a celebration. I stood in her living room chatting and eating a slice of cake.

“Big Girl,” Coach said. “Come to the front porch. I’ve got a graduation gift for you.” She was drying her hands with a striped dishrag in the kitchen. Pots, pans and dishes were stacked in neat rows to drip dry on the counter next to her. Coach had a few nicknames for me, but my pet name is “Big Girl.” By the age of 14 I was almost six feet tall and towered over her and everyone else.

We stepped outside. It was bright and warm, and Coach was just as bright and warm. We stood facing each other; she wore a sweet, sideways smile. There wasn’t a gift in sight.

“I noticed something when you were a kid and it’s time you know.” Palm fronds rustled in the South Florida sea breeze. “Do you remember when we traveled to tournaments and I had you sit in the front of the van to help you with spelling and school work?”


“Your brain works different than most, and that can make life tough.” Her face stretched into the proud loving grin that made me feel so special. “But your mind found ways around what often trips people up.”

I felt my eyebrows squish together and wondered what the heck she was talking about.

“I’ve kept a secret from you for oh, about 10 years now. I didn’t want you to get stuck in a diagnosis, or use it as a crutch.” Everything went quiet. I felt so cared for, while at the same time, my chest sunk with heaviness. Was something wrong with me?

“Go to the library and look up ‘dyslexia.’ You’ll recognize a few things.” The internet was an infant back then and we had to drive to libraries to research things.

“Is it bad? How do you spell that?” Coach giggled and spelled it out for me.

“It’s not bad.” She bear hugged me and continued on in the midst of our embrace. “C’mon now, you just graduated top of your class in Mechanical Engineering. You are just fine.”

We pulled back, but stood inches apart.

“I’m proud of you, Big Girl, you’ve made it.” Coach looked me in the eye with a mother’s love. “It’s time you know. This is your graduation gift. You can do anything.”

In that moment, I felt the specialness of this gift, but hadn’t a clue about the depth, breadth, and far-reaching ripple effects that one gift could have

I went to the library and was dumbfounded with how this ‘dyslexia’ thing described me to a T. I devoured information about it and was in awe of how my mind had found ways around many of the challenges. And boy did this explain a lot! Thanks to Coach’s guidance, I’ve never used the “D” word as a label, instead, the knowledge about this special brain wiring has helped me better understand myself and be more gentle when occasional bumps in the road pop up.

Tears of deep gratitude well up as I remember all the ways Coach loved and cared for me and the rest of her girls (my basketball teammates and friends). Most people never knew how much she humbly guided us behind the scenes, and how she continues to be a mentor and treasured friend.

The Best Gifts

Another huge gift was the realization that the best gifts often aren’t material things. Surprises and experiences take the cake. In this season of giving thanks and giving gifts, we can get so caught up with buying stuff for loved ones, stuff that can fill their homes (and ours) with clutter.

Just to be clear, I’m not against giving and receiving gifts. Gifts have helped convey love, respect, and thoughtfulness for as long as humans have been around. This is just a gentle nudge to broaden our horizons in the gift giving realm. Whether it’s a picnic, a trip, tickets to an art class or ball game, a hot air balloon ride, or a tender conversation− experiential learning and shared memories touch hearts and lives in ways most “things” never can.

At my graduation celebration, I’m sure I received several material gifts, but I’ve forgotten them all. But not that gift on the porch . . . and not the gift in the cafeteria. These gifts will continue to bless me and many others for many years to come.

A Gift, Lifetimes in the Making

Godby High Varsity Basketball team one year after the conversation in the cafeteria. Coach Taylor is top row, center.

November 30th, 2023 is my six year anniversary of driving away from “normal” life and setting off to wander the world. This article continues the tradition of releasing a blog that highlights someone/something that made a huge difference in my life each November 30th. Curios about how it all began? Here is the origin story: Waking up From Reasonable.

Coddiwomple Group Program Begins January 23rd: We inquire together with no expectation to ‘get something’. Yet, it is guaranteed you will get something and your experience of life will shift as we dabble in the unknown with curiosity and wonder. We meet weekly on zoom. For more info and to book your spot: Coddiwomple Group Program

Year end Bonus for Personal Engagements: Commit to a six month engagement and your seventh month is free. Through one on one mentoring and coaching, you’ll realize more freedom, contentment, and success in your own special way. . . problems and stress fade and decisions become a breeze.  Send me an email and let’s have a conversation about what’s possible.


Header Photo Above : Sunrise Over the Ridge – Snapped on a hike near Ojai, California – August 2018

Kristy Halvorsen

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