April 2018

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Enduring Friendships

In the past week, I've been lucky to reconnect with a number of long-time friends, all people I knew before my brain tumors. All, I now realize, are teachers.

Last Wednesday I lunched with Brett, who was a sophomore in my English class twenty-one years ago. Brett and his wife Vera are in Seattle for two years as Brett studies in the university's Masters in Teaching ELL program. They are in town from Austria, so I am grateful for the opportunity to reconnect before they return to Austria.

When I asked Brett to tell me about his teaching, he said, "Well, I'm not one of those passionate teachers." "What are you passionate about?" I pressed. "I'm passionate about Vera, and I used teaching to stay close to her." I love it that he's passionate about his wife, and as a person who went through a divorce and now has many friends going through divorces, I wonder if he realizes how lucky he is in this love.

Brett has always been passionate about music. He plays guitar, and when he was in high school he introduced me to Tom Petty's Wildflowers and Jimi Hendrix's "Little Wing." He would share a song with me by playing on--a walkman, maybe?--and as I listened he would close his very blue eyes as if he were listening, too. He would nod his head like blind musicians do, and though he could not hear the music I was listening to, he would imagine it and would say, "Isn't that amazing?"

Brett often seems disappointed in his life. He did when he was fourteen and thought he'd never have a steady girlfriend who loves him, and now at the age of thirty-five, he shakes his head and sighs because he hasn't been able to earn a living as a musician. (Yet, I would add.)

How lucky, though, to have such passion. When he asked me what I'm passionate about, I was surprised by the question. I thought it was obvious: "Teaching." I'm also passionate about Ann, my family, my faith, writing, poetry, wildflowers...For this passionate way of living, I'm glad to be reminded how lucky I am.

Saturday morning, we brunched at our long-time friend Marion's home with our friends Declan and Laura, who have moved from the area in suburban Washington where Declan, Ann, Marion and I taught high school students together. Declan and Laura moved a long drive away, clear on the other side of the state, to Pullman, Washington,  where Declan teaches in another school and Laura works as a nurse and a teacher with mothers who are breast-feeding. (I have no idea how one would teach that. Seems awkward.)

Declan and Laura are a charming couple, both with dimples and sparkly eyes. One of my favorite moments in our work together was when Declan, having been a pain about something the day before, came to my office with his head hanging low. He knocked on the door and without making eye contact, he said to me, "My wife said I should apologize to you."

Declan and Laura have four children, ages four to seventeen. Their children seem to have as much personality as they do. Their oldest children call their youngest, "the red-headed monster," and Declan and Laura clearly love this. The nickname, it seems, rings of truth.

Marion, who hosted the brunch, brought us all together for a brunch feast. (There was no chocolate. I couldn't believe it. Still, it was tasty.) Marion and Ann had already been carpooling for more than a decade when I joined their carpool, and we got to be good friends as we shared our lives, always facing forward, for eight years. It's hard to describe Marion's friendship. She's the master of self-deprecation, but really she's a good and solid and amusing friend who always cooks a tasty feast.

Then, out of the blue it seemed to me, I received an email from Sue, who was a history teacher in the Texas private school where I first taught, in the eighties when big hair was big. She and Christine, who was English department chair, will call Thursday to catch up. Sue has been on my blog, so she has some idea of what has been going on with me. I have no idea what she's been up to, but she referred to Christine as "the general," so I gather that she's still got some spunk about her.

This weekend, Ann and I went to see our long-time friends Marie and Colleen at their home on a nearby island. We call their home our favorite "B and B." It's always good to see them and they always fix a tasty breakfast.

This time, we went for the "Tour de Whidbey," a bike ride that Marie was helping to organize. On the ride, you could go ten miles or fifty miles or a hundred miles. Ann, Colleen and I opted for the ten-mile ride, which was designed especially for riders with disabilities and their families.

At the end of the day, the four of us went out for dinner at a local Italian restaurant. We laughed belly laughs the whole night. Colleen told the story about when she was in sixth grade and played softball with the older girls. She had seen Bill Murray in the movie Caddy Shack and thought it was hilarious. She kept moving her upper lip to the left and her lower lip to the right (she did this as a sixth-grader and she did it again now) as she said, "I smell some gopher poontang." As a sixth grade student, Colleen thought that poontang, sounding much like "poo," must mean doo-doo, and she ignored the warning looks of her friends whose fathers were the coaches. "I smell some gopher poontang," she said again with her lips all funky, and we roared.

When we got home from the island, my friend Rose, who has been a friend since I first moved to Seattle thirty years ago, called. She is going through a difficult time right now, and we talked about how grateful each of us has been for the steadiness of the other through all of these years, all of these ups and downs.

How lucky I am. And I feel lucky that you, too, are here. Mary

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