Monday, March 10, 2014
My childhood friend Ande's mom recently found a card that I had given to Ande, maybe when we were in high school. I had drawn Snoopy and had signed the card, "Your forever friend." At that age, friendships only seemed legitimate to me if they would be forever.
Though I made friends easily (as I remember it) in my pre-teen years, I had also written Ande a letter when I was five or so lamenting that she seemed to be better friends with other girls in the neighborhood than with me. Ande's mom found this letter in the attic, sealed and marked, "Open this letter in seven years." I always was an intense duck.
I remember the struggle I had making friends during my ugly duckling years (many of my teen years), and I remember how odd I thought it was that making friends became so much easier as I turned into a swan. (My Swan Stage was a brief period, and a weird one.) The role that my beauty (or lack of it) seemed to play in making friends made me a little cynical about the depth of friendships that I yearned to be so deep.
Now that I am approaching my golden birthday (five-oh), I think of myself neither as an ugly duckling nor a beautiful swan, but just as me with an unfortunate inward turn of my left eye that keeps me away from mirrors. I know that some of my friendships will endure and others will fade over time and that some of those that fade will re-emerge over even more time. I know that, at this time, I can't tell which ones will endure and which ones will fade, and that I will welcome back any friend who was lost but now is found like a father greeting his prodigal son.
The song from Brownies stays with me:
Make new friends,
But keep the old.
One is silver
And the other, gold.
I am so grateful for the silver and golden friendships I have now. I think my experience with brain tumors made me more aware of the preciousness of those friends and the fragility of my time with them.
My friends Pea and Lori and I have been getting together every month or two this year, intentionally deepening our friendships. Getting together is challenging. Before we even get together, there are logistical hoops and loops: Lori works two days a week and has other plans; Pam works intensely at times and casually at other times, so her schedule’s tough; I go to school a couple of days a week and have other responsibilities to calendar, and I fatigue easily, so I can only visit Lori on a day when I have no other plans.
To schedule a time to get together, first I contact Pea. Once Pea and I have a few dates when we could visit, I call Lori’s home and talk with a caregiver who has access to her calendar, and we try to find a time that works. If Lori’s there, she gives the yea or nay, but if she’s not the caregiver puts us on the schedule anyway.
When I called a few weeks ago to schedule a visit, Lori wasn’t home so I just talked with one of the caregivers. In church the next Sunday, Lori wouldn’t look at me. During the passing of the peace, I went to say “Peace” to her as I usually do, but she turned her head away from me. She may not communicate in speech, so she can’t really give me the silent treatment, but she certainly communicated that she was angry, or—as she would say—pissed off.
I spoke to the back of her head, “Peace, Lori. I called and made an appointment for Pea and me to come visit you, but I guess the caregiver I talked with didn’t tell you. We’ll see you later this week.” Only then did Lori turn to face me and smile: I felt forgiven.
Lori has cerebral palsy, uses a wheelchair, communicates not through speech but through eye movements, laughter when she is amused (often by children or our ministers’ bloopers), and an intense wailing when she is in pain. Like Lori, I don’t drive, and Lori lives a half hour’s drive north of my home in central Seattle, so Pea picks me up and drives the two of us to meet Lori.
Thursday, Pea picked me up and we headed north. When we got to Lori’s home, a caregiver answered the door, like always, and we greeted the caregivers and one of her housemates who was in the front room. Lori was already in her room, and we knew the way, so we went on back.
Lori was in a new wheelchair, a bright red motorized chair, and the caregiver in the room was nervous about trying to use it, so we called Hilda, a caregiver who has a strong relationship with Lori. Hilda turned Lori around, and we saw that this wheelchair moved fast, like a motorcycle, so we decided that we would not be touching its controls. We noticed that Lori’s right hand was cut and scabbed from hitting passing objects as she had been whizzing about in her new wheelchair.
Lori had a fancy new laptop on her desk, too, and I wondered aloud if it were her birthday, but she moved her eyes into the “no” position, indicating that it was not. Her sister had given her the laptop—and maybe the wheelchair, too. As the youngest child of five, Lori has told us in the past that her siblings thought she was spoiled when they were growing up. Perhaps they’ve continued spoiling her in her adulthood.
Pam shared with Lori a video of the flash mob where her partner Lovie proposed to her. Because Lori and I both have disabilities, though they’re quite different, I shared my most recent blog entry about my left foot.
The first couple of times Pea and I visited, we performed in this way (actually, Pea played the guitar) in the group living room, and that’s pretty much where the visit ended, but the third visit Lori invited us to her room and shared her photos and paintings with us, and since that time we always meet in her room, which is more private than her living room, and we are learning how to hear from her about how she is and what she is thinking.
This time, we sought to learn more about the music she likes. She likes Christian music more than “other kinds of music”, and rock more than country. She doesn’t like either jazz or blues. Typical for dykes, she likes The Indigo Girls.
We made a few plans for getting to know Lori better the next times we gather. Lori said that Pea and I can visit her at work, where she reads to elementary school kids. (I see her with kids all the time at church, so I know she loves kids and connects with them, but I have little idea how she reads to them.) We’re also going to interview Lori’s caregiver Hilda, who has a special connection with Lori and can read her mind. Lori will be part of the interview. And Lori says that we can interview one of her sisters, the one who gave her the laptop. Again with her there. (No sharing dirty secrets.)
Eventually, the goal is to give a sermon together at church. Partly, the sermon will be about Lori's life, but the more we get to know each other, the more I think that we will also talk about friendship.
I'm no Biblical scholar, but I know that Jesus said, "Whenever two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them." This loving presence is with us when we three gather.
After a couple of hours, Pea and I said good-bye and headed down the wheelchair ramp to Pea’s car. Pea drove us to her home, where we said hello to sweet Sunshine, the family’s golden retriever, and had a quick snack and some time to catch up before Pea’s partner Lovie came home, and we all headed to a nearby Thai restaurant to meet my partner Ann.
After a leisurely dinner, Lovie and Pea went their way and Ann and I came home. I slept well, warm with the depth of friendships that day. I am still glowing.
People often ask me these days how I feel about turning fifty. I feel great, and lucky. I have a loving partner, a fabulous family, and solid, interesting, artsy and somewhat quirky friends. My life is full.