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FRIENDSHIP

Despite feeling a bit lost in the mix coming from such a big family, in many ways I feel incredibly lucky for having been given so many built-in friends at birth.

By the time I came along, I already had five older sisters and would later be joined by a sixth and then three brothers, so not having someone to play with was never a problem. But they weren’t just fillers until I found the real thing, they were and are my very good friends, too.

Ironically, I am especially close to a sister that lives the furthest away. When we were teenagers, we would pretend she was my therapist/psychiatrist, her office being our bunkbed, where I would seek guidance from her knowing I could trust her and tell her anything. And nothing about that has changed in the all the years I’ve been alive, and I am so thankful for that.

I am overwhelmingly grateful for my family, for their unwavering love, support and friendship. That is no small thing in the world we live in today. But of course, at some point, we all have to go out into the world and strive to make friends of our own. As the saying goes, you sure can’t choose your family, but you do get to choose your friends. Well, most of the time anyway.

My earliest memory of making friends with another child (besides my siblings or cousins) happened when I started kindergarten. Her name was Crystal, and although I haven’t seen her in forty-five years, I can still picture her beautiful black face framed by a light blue blouse as we posed for our class pictures.

I can’t be sure, but I don’t remember having ever met a black person before that day, so maybe that’s what initially drew me to her. What I do remember about her the most is her sweet, gentle smile and the way we delighted in holding hands when being led out to recess, almost as if we knew we wouldn’t be able to hold on to each other for very long. (She ended up moving away the following year.)

It was nineteen seventy-three, and she was one of only a handful of black students in the entire Catholic elementary school K- 8 that I attended, which may or may not have had something to do with certain people strongly disapproving of our friendship. I remember being encouraged to leave her and the subject matter alone, which out of respect I tried to do, but it felt incredibly unfair to me. On the one hand I was encouraged to make new friends, but on the other hand, I was then discouraged when I did just that.

In the years that followed, I became increasingly painfully shy so making new friends did not come easy for me. I steered away from forming friendships with other kids at school, but I did have a couple of girlfriends in my neighborhood who became like sisters to me, in addition to my six sisters of my own.

We (Charlie’s Angles as we liked to call ourselves) were inseparable, but that didn’t come easy either. One of these two girlfriends had the unfortunate luck of having parents that were divorced, which was a pretty big taboo to my Catholic mother who was very disapproving of our spending so much time together.

Thankfully the older I got, the braver I became, eventually enough to stand up for myself, to stand up for her, and to stand up for our friendship. And although we now often go years without seeing each other, we remain friends to this day.

But it was on the first day of the fourth grade, that I would meet my new best friend. She was transferring from another school nearby, and when we were asked to form a line on the first day, we were drawn to each other like magnets and from that day forward were damn near impossible to separate.

We had our share of disagreements over the years and at times drifted away from each other, sometimes accidentally and other times on purpose. Our long-lasting friendship often required forgiveness on both sides, and that wasn’t always an easy thing to do.

Many years went by when we didn’t speak to each other at all, but then heartbreak would visit one of us, as heartbreak always does, and we’d be there for each other, despite the distance that had grown between us because we will always love and support each other. And I treasure that as much as I treasure her and always will.

She saw me through just about my entire childhood, the highs and lows and everything in-between and I would not be who I am today without her.

Then, during the summer before my senior year in high school, I met a new friend. A young man who unbeknownst to me at the time would become my best friend for life. It started slowly at first, but very quickly we began talking about the future, about our future – together.

“Friendship is a moving frontier of understanding not only of the self and the other but also, of a possible and as yet unlived, future.” – David Whyte Consolations

Fast forward thirty-three years and we are still looking towards the future, together.

Being best friends with the man I love is both an easy and at times incredibly hard thing to do. Easy like Sunday morning sure, but hard on a Tuesday afternoon when you’re both ready to call it quits.

Thankfully over the years, there have only been a couple of times when we felt like that might happen. Times when one or both of our shadow selves would be pushed out into the light of day by the other, and it was times like these that we couldn’t stand to look at each other let alone be sure we could stick it out for even one more day. But because we’ve always made it a rule to communicate even when all I want to do is tell him to fuck off (which I sometimes do), we have always made an effort to keep the lines of communication open.

We genuinely enjoy spending time together, talking, laughing, bickering, relaxing, all while watching our two children our two beautiful creations, grow into the loving, caring adults they have become.

And because we have been together since we were both still so young, we know everything about each other as all great friends do. We know each other’s histories, the pain as well as the joy and the stories behind all of our scars.

“But no matter the medicinal virtues of being a true friend or sustaining a long close relationship with another, the ultimate touchstone of a friendship is not improvement, neither of the other nor of the self, the ultimate touchstone is witness, the privilege of having been seen by someone and the equal privilege of being granted the sight of the essence of another, to have walked with them and to have believed in them, and sometimes just to have accompanied them for however brief a span, on a journey impossible to accomplish alone.” – David Whyte Consolations

“To have walked with them and to have believed in them,” that, that right there is the true measure of our friendship. He sees me, the real me, and for someone who felt invisible for much of her life, that is huge. That is everything.

We believed in one another from the start. And throughout our many years together we always strived to honor each other’s feelings, even when that meant me moving to Oklahoma for Air Traffic Control school right after we were married. Or going all the way to Africa, alone, to fulfill a dream he didn’t share which meant leaving him behind.

He has been instrumental in my growth as a human being, and that’s something I will be forever grateful for.

Our children – the ultimate gift we gave each other over twenty years ago – keep our friendship alive and well since we are both equally invested in their well-being and their happiness.

And we are friends with our children, now more so than when they were younger, but really always. Our doors always have, and always will remain open to them. Like a good friend, we have always encouraged the best in them to shine while subtly discouraging what may make them smaller or less generous or less of themselves.

I have always encouraged them to be themselves and follow their hearts, affirming their value not only to the world but more importantly to themselves, while encouraging them to be independent of us as soon as possible in the event they would ever be faced with losing one or both of us.

We have both tried our best to be the parents we wished we had. To give our kids more of what we didn’t get, to love them more and support them more than we were loved or supported. Knowing better, we tried to do better, for ourselves and them, and in return, we fostered a genuine friendship with both of them.

Still, over the years I’ve been teased about not having many if any other close friends. I’ve been urged to go out and make new ones as if there’s some quota I am expected to meet.

I’ve never been able to adequately explain that I have many more friends than meets the eye.

“Through the natural surprises of a relationship held through the passage of years we recognize the greater surprising circles of which we are a part and the faithfulness that leads to a wider sense of revelation independent of human relationship: to learn to be friends with the earth and the sky, with the horizon and with the seasons, even with the disappearance of winter and in that faithfulness, take the difficult path of becoming a good friend to our own going.” – David Whyte Consolations

I am friends with my dogs who talk back but have my unconditional love. And my horses even though I must now visit them as a good friend would. And my cats who I am not always on speaking terms with. And the grass that tickles my bare feet to remind me of our connection. And the wind that likes to play with my hair. And the water that envelopes me like a hug. And the trees that shake with delight when they see me. And the birds that like to gossip. And the flowers that draw the bees that pollinate the vegetables growing in my garden after a long bitterly cold winter – a winter that gets off on tormenting me.

In all of my friendships, I try to give what I need, especially to myself. The act of looking back has encouraged me to drop that old story of me never having very many friends. I’m writing a new story now, and in this story, I am finally not only becoming a good friend to myself, I also have an abundance of good friends all around me.

 

NEXT WEEK: GENIUS

 

About Amy

I am many things to many people. Daughter, sister, wife, mother, aunt, friend. I am a worshiper of nature on a journey inward, rewriting my story one word at a time.

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