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Open Face #1

I hope that librarian I like will come into the coffee shop after she locks up her bicycle — it seems the right time to introduce ourselves.

The fact that it didn’t turn out to be her after all, though same height, kinky sand-colored hair, and glasses, leaves me just wondering why is she a person I would just go up to, after years of brief encounters at the library, mostly just as I passed with by empty book bag into the stacks, or with my pile on the way to the electronic self-check, to say, hello, I wanted to say hello and have a chat, if you don’t mind. I’ve always been curious about you.

Selfish, of course, because I discerned, I think rightly, that she, with her pleasant, intelligent smile, and vibes, even, has sent the message, for many years, “Nice to see you getting books. I love books, too.” I sensed appreciation, and I do like to be appreciated. I venture to admit that it could be my raison d’existence, and hope that the end justifies the means, as my modus operandi is pretty much socially acceptable.

There’s also her intonation. Can’t describe it — I’m not good with sound and rhythm words—but there was a kind of sonic connection that could be derived from an extended phenotype and/or set of values we both share. Care of articulation, quietly animated tone, warmth, a subdued excitement that is the theme of our small city. I think it would be a good conversation. Over a warm drink and with a silver-blue bay stretching out between us and the mounts of Lummi Island.

There will be other days to make a new friend. It’s an especially good season for that, and I am bursting with an especially hopeful and open sense of anticipation. Can you feel it?

 
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Posted by on December 15, 2018 in Relationships

 

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A podcast Idea: Two old friends reunited

A few years ago I tried to look up an old college friend, AK, searched online and came upon her husband’s obituary. She lost him to cancer, she and their four children about the ages of our four. I had spoken to her only a few times and exchanged a few letters since their wedding a year after ours, and then, flash! So much living and then his death, and life still goes on. What must that be like, to lose one’s partner and have to raise children alone. Though she has a loving and large family around to lean on.

The obituary was posted as a closing piece on his blog. It was correct and appropriate, befitting his role as Anglican priest, but did not remind me of the young man I’d known. But who was he, really, and who am I to say the “real” JW was just that laughing, fun-loving curly-headed housemate that kept the heat too high in his basement bedroom and came up for food and laughter now and then. He was highly intelligent, Oxford classics scholar material for sure, but I was surprised when I heard he was going for the priesthood. The college we attended had full high Anglican chapel services several times a day, complete with fat priest who spoke with an imitation English accent while waving the incense thingamajig solemnly. JW had a beautiful, deep speaking and singing voice, though I know he would never use it to put on airs. Even when intoning on a serious subject, with us it always seemed to be a prelude to a crackup or digression into a Monty Python skit. He’d double up his spider-thin body and shake helplessly with laughter when we got going on this or that imitation or parody. Being goofy was such an important part of stress relief during exams and through that long, dark, slushy winter. For some reason we got into sound plays, which I’d record on cassette, complete with sound effects and voices. I found a recording which I plan to send to the family, featuring both JW and me doing a skit, and AK and me interviewing late night party lingerers about life, the universe, and not much of anything. We lit a fire in the fireplace of our gigantic Victorian living room, which had so little furniture, served peanuts in the shell, allowing the guests to throw the husks on the floor to add crunch to our movements.

AK, proper and devout, the oldest of five and by all accounts the responsible one, with a love of honest engagement, deep conversations, the occasional glass of wine, a commitment to seek God and follow Jesus, and a willingness to dance up a storm with me when the weekend came. She was ever kind and patient with me, accepting of my lack of orthodoxy, always finding something valuable in my attempts to articulate meaning, laughing at my jokes, praying for me a good deal more for me than she let on, I’m sure, as I stumbled through relationships and tried to stay on track with my studies and life. I strayed a lot, and she became a kind of shepherdess to me, by coming into my pastures instead of trying to hook me into hers. She was a true friend to me. We kept in touch after graduating, visited few times, and she was maid of honor at my wedding. I soon got the invitation to her wedding, and it’s a mark of my relational near sightedness that I hadn’t seen the match coming between her and JW, though I knew there was something there at times between them. I guess I didn’t listen very well, just wrote him off as the funnest kind of friend but not the marrying kind. Which worked out well for all of us anyway. JW and I made goofy tape recordings, he being the natural comic and I goading him on and doing sound effects, and during the other hours she and he were falling in love.

We drove over the mountains with our baby son to attend the wedding. I knew it would be a busy day, and I do hate to be in the way, so I didn’t get in touch with AK or her family. It was a lovely wedding–everyone was radiant and the flowers and homily and setting were superb, lots of guests from the upper echelon, her three lovely sisters as bridesmaids and brother ans groomsman, and was that the youngest sister with the buzz cut? Afterward we went the few blocks to the hall where the invitation-only reception was to take place–such an elegant room of well appointed tables, each with shining tableware and printed name cards. We went along the first edge reading these, and suddenly I was filled with self doubt and anticipated humiliation as I pictured not finding our names anywhere and having to slink away. Meanwhile was thinking I’m not dressed nice enough, and I don’t belong here, and I got a lump in my throat and dragged my husband out protesting and told him I didn’t think we were even invited–it was invitation only and I didn’t have one with me, and let’s get out of here, and let’s just go to the evening get together at the family’s house. None of his protests would budge me, nor his offer to go scouting for our names.

This is a hard memory for me, as is the memory of our conversation with AK that evening as she greeted us with tears of welcome, wondering where we had been. I explained my confusion, and saw that it upset her–she said how could I think we weren’t invited–I was one of her most honored guests. I was so embarrassed, and my husband was saying I told you so, and AK had been planning to say a few words about our friendship.

I don’t know why, but I get the wrong idea lots of times about my role in others’ lives, sometimes feeling so much an outsider, other times not noticing I am being welcomed in. So I err on the side of staying out of the way, assuming I’m not wanted or important, and would only be in the way. A holdover from really being in the way as a middle child, my mother always caring for younger ones and older ones doing their own things, my father being mobbed by everyone when he got home and just wanting to have a quite read or at least visit with one at a time.

In academics, topical discussions, or my profession, it’s different—I go boldly and feel confident, knowing my role and prerequisite skills, forgiving myself when I mess up, and feeling I have a reasonably balanced sense of ego. In friendships it’s different, and it takes me a long time to feel secure, and I find it difficult to do the work I need to do to maintain friendships from my end. So you see why all of my true friends have a lot of patience, and don’t assume that because I haven’t said anything to them in months that I do not value them. I really have to work on this fear of rejection or marginalization. Comes out most in informal group settings, when I really don’t know who I want to be in relation to, well, so many unique individuals, and why might what I’d say to one be appropriate for another? I’m not much good an breaking ice or small talk either, and tend to get impatient when no one broaches anything complex or debatable or asks sincere questions about things they’d like to learn. If most of my local family had any taste for alcohol and I enjoyed the occasional social drink, I suppose I’d still be using alcohol on occasion to help me with my social inhibitions, as I did in my first few years of college. Then I rededicated my life to God, and it became preferable to “get drunk on the Holy Spirit.” The Spirit may be empowering, but doesn’t make up for a lack of social graces.

I tried again to reach her this moth, after the death of my husband, and as I waited to see if she’d get the email I sent to what seemed to still be her place of work, I reflected on the similarity of our places in life–both of us teachers, both with fours children grown or almost grown, having lost husbands to cancer. My mind wandered into the prospect of going to visit her in Alberta next summer and taking a trip together, and making our conversations in to a podcast. Because along with the similar experiences, I was sure that there would be some very different points of view to discuss. I had given up efforts to be religious, while I was sure she had not. What would she think of that?

About a week later she replied, with comfort and sweetness, and a religious take on how I could best orient myself in the grieving process. I did not relate, though the words were very familiar. Jesus, well acquainted with grief. But his grief, I think wasn’t about loved ones dying to much as powerful people blocking others’ path to God. I guess we’d talk about that in the podcast.

But we’d start with our childhoods—a study in certain similarities and other contrast. Then college, same there. Then marrying and raising children, teaching, and having our husbands die. I think it could be an interesting show, and I might just propose it.

 
 

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Old friend, new friend

Early Runner introduced herself to me when I was a newlywed just moved in to the neighborhood, as she was a friend of the family too. My husband and I were starting our married life sharing the home of my newly widowed mother-in-law, who had known Early Runner way back, such a nice girl, and so devoted as she had cared for her mom while she suffered her last years with a terminal brain tumor.

I liked her right away, and was pleased to have a new friend, and as she was outgoing, approachable, and genuinely interested in a friendship, she made me feel very welcome in my new country, new life, new church (which she also attended).

We visited from time to time, I admired but was not able to follow her example of 6 a.m. runs, let her two daughters play with my first baby boy, and had coffee from time to time. My husband and I moved about a year after the birth of our boy to a town a half hour north and connected with a whole new community, and Early Runner and I would only hear each other’s news through the grape vine and occasionally visit. Her marriage was not well. I was absorbed in rearing several more children, and life went on without our connecting much.

Ten years ago we met again at the family cottage of a different mutual friend, this time another friend of the family, and a home town connection with Early Runner, with whom I’d connected over being neighbors in our new town, homeschoolers, and moms of four kids each about the same age. She had a new love, and a new son the same age as my youngest, but we didn’t have much time to visit. Then off we went overseas and lost touch.

A few weeks ago she heard from my family about my husband’s diagnosis (she’s known him since grade school), and reached out to see if she could drop by and give me a hug. We arranged to meet for a walk and visit, and I have just come back feeling that I have remade a new friend. Turns out we have more in common than we had realized, and not just the experience of caring for a terminally ill loved one. She is in town for a local writer’s conference, which I was planning to attend until our lives shifted this winter. She writes poetry and wants to blog to develop a more public expression, has no desire to go to Disneyland ever again and thinks it’s strange and fake, and finds evangelical Christians too simplistic and judgmental, yet retains some faith and desire to hear from God in a real way. She has written and shared about plans for her own funeral as I have, and has struggled with retaining a sense of independent identity in a committed marriage and with the Christian stereotypes about a woman’s place in marriage, as I have.

We drank wine, forgot about ordering and then eating our food while we caught up, shared dreams, and asked questions. She wants to go with me to the annual poetry retreat I’ve been hoping to attend for the third time, and we have a plan for main conversation topic next time we get together. I was hoping for just such a friend, so it’s been a good day.

 

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Wine is to make the heart merry, and wind is a breath of fresh air

On the spur of the moment, cutting off the possibility of setting up too-high expectations of myself as a hostess, I invited our closest friends over for supper yesterday. Offered her a glass of wine as she arrived, having left her husband at home watching over the apple pie that had ten more minutes to bake. She looked surprised and said, “Are we at that stage now?” and gladly accepted a blue Hebron glass of Chardonnay, while I decided to work on using up a previously opened bottle of Riesling, and poured a modest amount into my rooster glass. I was thinking I might have to add some honey mead to make it palatable, but it was sweet and mild enough even for me. We felt quite free spirited, even when her husband came along with the pie and some non-dairy frozen pie topping, as my husband led him into a discussion of first century theology and pulled out a volume of Philo.

I’ve written before about how special this friend of mine is–so gentle and kind, so self effacing and giving, so patient. She derives her strength and deep reserves of love from a deep faith in her Lord, a life of prayer and meditation and walking in relationship… which I have not found to have become much a part of my own life at this stage of life. Not in that way or to that degree. I’m in a kind of dormancy there, or holding pattern. During our home schooling days together we were more in tune that way, but even now she continues to share her riches with me in my dry space. The men—completely different personalities—completely! always enjoy getting together too, talking amiably about politics, religion, and family life. In a way the personalities are kiddie corner, with I and my friend’s husband having similar senses of humor, verbal reticence, green thumbs, and placing our trust in knowledge and reason, while my husband and my friend are more heart-oriented. Though with him it is with intensity and a habit of speak first think later, and hers is a meeker version. Passion and compassion?

The oldest son of this couple and our oldest son became friends over a box of Bionicle action figure parts in a dance studio waiting room, then their daughter bonded with my two–she is between them in age. Their next boy became best friends with my youngest, they being within a week in age. Their youngest boy then looped into that friendship as he moved from toddlerhood to boyhood, so now that the oldest are off to college, there are two sets of three friends.

My youngest son cleared the table after dinner so we could play telepictionary, and since it’s the best game ever and not at all dependent on artistic or verbal skill, and with no winning and losing, we all joined in, except the teens, who had other things to attend to. Some of us needed those laughs very much–who doesn’t? But I laughed only so hard that my eyes watered, and did not cry. Truly, I don’t feel that welling up of sadness much any more, which is hopeful, I guess. But I feel more myself with some of my roots reaching down to a place melancholy—feels more real, and for some reason I can recognize beauty and feel joy and gratitude better from that place. Like, I need, need, need to watch that hummingbird do its whole routine, including sitting on the fence and chirping. And I need to respond, just a few words directed to that tiny being. And there’s more need for humor and laughter and music where a sorrow ebbs and flows, and things can only get better, right?

There were a lot of dirty dishes afterward. Two of them were the barely touched glasses of wine I’d poured for my friend and me. We have so much catching up to do on the drinking of wine by perimenopausal women front. Maybe a night at my friend L’s house–she even has friends our age who like to skinny dip in the lake! Those little signs of, what? the crystalization of the non-dependent identity of a free agent that is in a marriage partnership not out of habit, or for the children’s sake, but as the fulfillment of a promise. But, by God, there weren’t any promises not to go on hootenanies or shenanigans with the gals now and again! Talk of an all women dance party with disco ball, a trip out to one of the islands for a pedestrian adventure and overnight, tickets to a big name performance in Vancouver. Interspersed by a paddle around the bay, a walk to the coffee shop in the wild weather, making applesauce together from the windfalls from the neighbors’ trees.

I think I can help find a channel for that sense of fun in my friend. Now that I have more confidence there, and maybe more importantly, my husband—not wanting to hurt or worry him in any way—has confidence in me. Her husband is another story. When she gets high spirited in his presence, he quickly shuts her down–my girls have commented on it several times, and it drives them nuts. Still, I’m able to tease and joke with him in a way his wife cannot, even though she has a wonderful sense of humor. Plus he seems to think that I have her, and his, best interests at heart, so she and I have been able to do a few things together apart from other family members, with his blessing. No, don’t judge him (as I say also to my daughters)–he’s not a control freak in some awful way. He just has an exaggerated sense of his own headship and undervalues his wife’s unique identity and worth in her own right. His positive attributes make up for it, I think. Still iron sharpens iron, so why not?

The leftover apple pie and peach upside down cake was shared out and packed up, the boys were sent out to the car, and as the wind whipped the fir boughs, we said good night, and thank you for the lovely visit. I loaded the dishwasher for the final time that day, tossing down the leftover wine.

 

 
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Posted by on August 31, 2015 in Places & Experiences, Relationships

 

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A chance to give something back

The last few Fridays I’ve been teaching classes on Biblical holy days for a friend who is overloaded. Amazing how that sense of being of assistance to her has made it a delight to prepare and do these classes, even more than it normally would be. It made sense that she would ask me (and she didn’t exactly, not directly–more on that later), since I’d spend several years in Israel, saw and participated in the Jewish celebrations, learned Hebrew, used the blessings and songs. I mean, if she was struggling, I would definitely be the one to help out, but still, it took a while.

First, to get through to me that she was struggling–from her frequent pauses when I’d ask her how she was doing, from her lack of usual energy and clarity, and finally learning that she was going to the doctor to see about help with sleeping, her hug that seemed to be receiving and not just giving as it often was before, I finally put it all together. She was losing sleep, having trouble problem solving, worrying about transitions her kids were making or would need to be ready to make into public school and beyond, and on top of that, doing so much driving to classes, sports, and music lessons that she hardly had a moment to sit and gather her thoughts. And she works hard to keep her home in order (unlike me) and make regular meals, and puts her husband’s needs before her own. Where I have guarded a certain margin of time and energy these past five years or so (post small children) to do things I simply enjoy–reading, writing, gardening, and such, she has no hobbies or pursuits that I know of that don’t have to do with serving her family in some way. Once I asked her what she’d like to do if she had the day to herself, and i don’t believe I got a straight answer–it was as if that dilemma would never come up. I admire her devotion, as I said, but wonder if she may be de-selfing too much. I want to see that spunk, the occasional snappy answer to her husband, that energetic, adventurous spirit she has, along with the gentle spirit I admire so much. It’s an active, gentle love. But lately there has been only “I should be able to snap out of this…” and continued efforts to do all her duties. I would have cried Help long ago.

Planning the classes took some easing in, trying to see what she really wanted–for some help? For me to teach the classes? And did she have opinions and preferences and key ideas she wanted to make sure I included? All indirect–she never directly says things like “No, I think this would be better,” or “This is what I’d like like you to do.” Since I hate to be pushy or to make my friend feel dominated, I had to feel it out gently. This by a person who, at home, cuts through overly rambling complaints with, “What do you want, anyway?” and has got into the habit of cutting certain family members off with a “Got it; you don’t have to keep going on about it.” I also refuse, on principle, to respond to oblique attempts to manage or influence me, such as, “You’re wearing that?” [that merits no answer, maybe a look, or a request for a meaningful question] or “I don’t feel like spaghetti today,” [“If you don’t eat it, you’ll be hungry later, but suit yourself.”] or “Mom, we’re completely out of mini-yogurts, and I have to have a good lunch before my test tomorrow!” [we have A, B, and C. Take it or leave it.] Certainly the neighbor kid’s “I wish I had a glass of milk” spoken to the ceiling does not get a response.

But it’s different with this friend–I’m continually trying to figure out what she wants, what she feels, what bothers her, what makes her happy, and it’s a real challenge, because she’s so…nice. In the best, most true sense. My children and I use the words “wonderful,” “amazing,” etc. She’s the best mom they know–sometimes second to me, out of politeness), the most patient wife, the kindest daughter-in-law, the most loving hostess, the sweetest friend. We’ve been friends for about ten years, homeschooled our kids together for many of those, and I just enjoy being around her, so gentle and kind is she, so patient, so self-effacing, hard working and devoted to her husband and family. She was a huge support to me in hard times–stress with kids, with spouse, with culture shock, financial strain–her presence was a balm, her home a haven, for me and all my family. And she almost never, ever says she needs something from me, wants me to do something, help her with something (beyond the normal carpooling, potluck, division of labor in group events). That’s why I’m quite wild about the opportunity to take this burden off of her shoulders.

 
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Posted by on May 14, 2014 in Relationships

 

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Du courage, my friend

I have developed a tremor of some kind, low grade neural white noise. Surely a manifestation of some kind of disjoint between who I feel am meant to be, if I may imagine there is such a person, and the role to which I am trying, oft resentfully, to adapt. Not a tremor anyone would notice, but when I am coming up against obstacles, fielding impossible requests, looking at the fruits of apparently wasted efforts, I sense it in my hands first, sometimes my arms and legs so I have to sink into a chair and plan for my next move. When it goes on too long, it steals the physical strength I need for my weekly Pilates class, and puts my body into some kind of hangover the next day. Not normal, and I wonder if something’s wrong.

I do a web search on “muscle tremors” and find links to neurological disorder, Parkinson’s Disease, generalized anxiety disorder, multiple sclerosis, and stress. I’ll take stress, please, for five thousand. Or maybe generalized anxiety, if it means I can take a ferry to an island next week and hang out at a beach cabin, drinking coffee with cream and taking occasional visitors. And let’s have a tidy diagnosis, a simple and effective treatment, and no one will get hurt. My friends and family don’t need me falling apart right now. “Why didn’t she tell anyone?!” We all know dang well why–because we had enough on our plates, and it’s better to know after the fact, when it’s too late to fail to know how to help.

But I do have help. No one knows how much general anxiety my dear, doughnut-delivering friend relieves in this world, preventing the onset of ever so many tremors and worse. Always a hug from her, no matter how brief the passing while exchanging kids for a play date, dropping off a borrowed book. No one knows how dear is the encouragement of a fellow writer as he explores the angst of existence and finds the sparks, the reasons for hope, the unmistakeable beauty in every life. How sweet is the “Good night; I love you” of a daughter or son. As the apostle Peter said, “Love each other deeply, because covers a multitude of sins.” Pushes back the darkness, fortifies my sinews and begins to restore that neural electrolyte balance. The unspoken whispers of “Du courage.”

 

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