Monday, August 5, 2013

In Honor of International Friends Day

I’m a little late with a post for International Friends Day, but, aw, what the heck. I want to keep friend energy moving through the planet because it is one of life’s greatest manifestations.
If I had to pinpoint my favorite thing about being alive (you just never know when you’re going to be asked random poignant questions like this, so I like to be prepared) I would answer that my favorite thing about being alive is relatedness, the chance to have meaningful relationships with people. And, well, good food. Just look at the summer salad I made the other day.

But, I digress.
The power of friendship and relatedness is a theme in my novel, OCD, THE DUDE, AND ME. Perhaps, consciously or unconsciously, that theme is present because friendship is important to me.
When I reflect back on my life—the good, the bad, the ugly, the really ugly and the transcendently perfect—what I see most vividly are the people who were with me in all those colorful moments. The moments have a tendency to recede into the background, but the people remain front and center.
This weekend I went to a friend’s 50th birthday party, and a group of us sat around waxing philosophical about how it just can’t be possible that we’ve known each other for twenty-some years. But, yes, despite the few cocktails we had and our fuzzy math abilities, we realized it’s true. Holy cow. Like in a good way.
My favorite friend moments are the spit-out-your-drink laughter ones, but I value my friends fiercely through the tears-and-fears moments, too.  
As I move through my life, as the landscape changes, I’m thrilled to have my long-term friends and the new ones who are popping up thanks to serendipity. Changing jobs and publishing a novel has brought new beautiful people into my life. These recently acquired friends are expanding my horizons, helping me see in new directions and out further than I thought I’d ever try to peek. That is the gift of new friends: their presence means you are willing to walk new paths. They hearken adventure and represent a willingness to change and grow. Our old friends represent the richness cultivated by time. Their grandness in our lives emboldens and strengthens us for the adventures yet to come.
I have many, many names I could list who are these warriors of mine, these friends both new and old. I bow to you, collectively, in gratitude.  
I have one friend I met in kindergarten. She's on the left in the photo below having just ran a half marathon with another friend. I know. Shut up and you go girls! 

Four decades ago, Cynthia (marathon runner) and I sat next to each other on the first day of school, and we watched a scared little boy in the class jump out our ground floor window to catch his mom in the parking lot. He wasn't so keen on the whole school thing. I reacted on the other end of the spectrum with regard to that day. My mom said that when she dropped me off, I ran right into class without even looking back. (Sigh. Thus began a very long love affair with school for me. That moment pretty much cemented the fact that I was going to be a teacher. The rebel kid who jumped out the window is probably a multi-billionaire by now.)  
I met Cynthia on that first day of kindergarten, and we’ve been friends since. We were born six days apart in March of 1967. (Hope you don’t mind that I outed our middle-agedness, Cynthia.)
We’ve stayed friends even though we’ve spent the majority of our lives in separate cities way across the country. We stayed in touch while growing up; we were in each other’s weddings. We comforted each other through life's losses. I’ve watched her kids grow up in photos.  Here is her son in a brilliant prom photo. You could write a killer story about this shot, couldn't you? It's stunning.
Recently, Cynthia sent me a picture of my book that was in her local library in Lebanon, Ohio. That is a solid friend. 

Over texts the other day, we referenced our kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Franks. She was a sweet, wonderful teacher, and Cynthia and I both remember how we knocked on her door one day as young children when we were collecting items for a charity carnival we were planning. Cynthia and I were so excited when Ms. Franks opened her door and then donated an item: a bunch of dried orange flowers covered by a glass dome perched on a dark piece of wood. Forty some years later, I still remember this item and this moment. I remember how we pulled a red wagon up Mrs. Frank’s driveway and through our neighborhood so we had a place to keep all the donated items from that day’s work. 
Cynthia and I planned carnivals to benefit cancer research when we were really young. Seriously, I think the first one we put on was the summer we finished kindergarten.  Cynthia had a trampoline in her backyard, so we had at least one big ticket ride at that event! Who knows what compelled us to put on charity carnivals during our summer vacations when we were so young. We couldn’t have known as five-year olds that both our fathers would pass away, too young, from cancer.
I’m not writing this piece to be maudlin. I’m writing it to celebrate the special years of friendship I’ve had with Cynthia, that I’ve had with so many people. People I shared offices with, classrooms with, theater spaces with, yoga classes with, cyberspace with, all kinds of space with. I’m writing this to articulate the power of friendship, to say that it matters and that it should be cultivated more individually, corporately, and internationally.
Here’s to International Friendship Day. May its spirit linger all year, through all people and all places. May this spirit find new ways to relate, to connect, to share and to love through us.

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