Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Grace of Friendship

It took becoming a mom to make my first “best” friend since college, someone with whom I could relax and be myself. But I didn’t know it until I had to face the reality of her moving away.

I don’t know exactly how our friendship began or the moment when she moved from acquaintance to friend. When did I begin to trust her with the pieces of my life that were confusing, revealing my deep insecurities and idiosyncrasies? Maybe it was every time I agreed to sit in the park while our children played in spite of feeling exhausted, vulnerable, and downright grouchy. I remember being surprised at how she didn’t seem to mind, never taking it personally but rather accepting it all with an ebb and flow I have yet to master.

It helped that our children liked each other—requesting to play together, wrestling with each other on the living room floor or holding each other’s hands across the backseat of the car as we set out on our latest park adventure. It didn’t hurt that our husbands genuinely liked each other, too, talking easily and looking forward to family get-togethers and Sunday mornings playing volleyball at the beach.

Photo by Kathleen Keagy
When she went back to work part-time months before she moved, this wrinkle in our rhythm began to show me just what would change when she moved away. And then, as she began making serious plans for her move, there was still less time for our friendship. But it wasn’t until the day after she left when I found myself sobbing in my husband’s arms that I began to understand how lost I would be without the grace and ease of our friendship. Would we still be friends across three thousand miles? Sure. But it would not be a friendship that easily mirrored the rhythm of our days, but a squeezed-in conversation on the phone or a trail of email across the digital world.

She taught me to call when I was feeling crazy, not just to share the good days. She let me in her home when it was dirty, making my dirty house an okay place to gather, too. She listened without a note of disbelief when I shared stories of past lives I remembered and even asked questions about how it all worked. She was my sounding board for the story I was writing and edited my first published pieces. She motivated me with her sense of creative possibility and with her daily diligence on projects. She inspired me to stretch my notions of mother and artist, showing by example that it was good to set aside time for me in the midst of the demands of being a wife and mother. She taught me through friendship how to tend to my life first—to hold my ground, to fill my well and to honor my personal truths. In all, I had been my authentic self with her, and in the process, learned who my authentic self was. She was my friend through a period of significant transformation, and now I had to hold this space for myself.

There was a piece of me that wanted to close down after she left. It felt like breaking up with a boyfriend—as though I'd never find someone like that again. No, not like her, but someone different, I told myself. Someone who would fit in the life to which I was arriving now that I had the gift of her friendship. Now that I remembered how to foster a friendship. And I am lucky enough to have her still on the other end of the phone line, still near enough to remind me with her sass and humor just how far I’ve come in case I forget.

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