Posts Tagged ‘friendship’

On Saturday, as I tried to prepare for a class I’m teaching, I found myself instead glued to my computer screen as I On Saturday, as I tried to prepare for a class I’m teaching, I found myself instead glued to my computer screen as I watched a group of religious leaders, along with author Cornel West, slowly make their way, arms linked, down the streets of Charlottesville, VA.  The live Ustream feed on Facebook showed them lining up in front of a Confederate statue in a park, police barriers next to them, as they silently witnessed their support for the town officials who want to remove the statue.  Quietly, then with passion, they sang “This Little Light of Mine” and then offered a brief prayer – some of them in Spanish or in Arabic – for that moment.

I was filled with gratitude to see the Unitarian Universalist Association’s President, Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, there.  I also saw other members of our clergy:  Rev. Jeanne Pupke, Rev. Wayne Arnason, Rev. Carleton Elliott Smith, Rev. Kathleen Rolenz, and many more.  They were there with leaders of many faiths, having answered the call to come to Charlottesville, sent out by Rev. Dr. William Barber and others.

Then, violence occurred – many injured, one dead; then, two more killed as a police helicopter, surveying violence on the ground, crashed.  It was, I am told, the largest white supremacist demonstration of current days.  It was terrible.  It still is.

When I was in high school in Hamden, CT (just outside of New Haven) I was in the Drama Club crowd.  It was a large school – about the size of Lexington High School – and if you were going to survive you had a niche group to connect to.  Mine were the artsy kids.  One of them, another lifelong UU, was a friend named Alison, an African American, gorgeous, kind, smart young woman.  We went everywhere together, and we were in LRY (precursor to groups like FUUY) at church.  Time changes memory, but mine holds this series of events:  one day, things just imploded.  The mostly-Italian youth who hung together had been taunting the African American athletes…football and basketball players – and the race-baiting reached the boiling point.  I walked into the cafeteria to see chairs flying, windows breaking, and kids running.  I turned and ran too, away from the cafeteria, to my locker to grab my bags, and outside to the street.

As police streamed in and students ran, I was relieved to see one of our friends in a car who yelled to me, “Get in!”  I did and, as we drove away, I said, “Where’s Alison?  We have to get her out of here!”  One person replied, “I saw her – she’s with the other black kids.”  The reality hit me like a thud:  of course.  She had to choose where to go, and she chose safety in people who looked like her and were, in many ways, like her.  Somewhere, a very big line had been drawn. It was the first time the reality of the division cause by race hit me, square in the face.

People sometimes strive for their ten minutes of fame.  Hamden High got its ten minutes that week, as a short piece ran in Time Magazine about the race riot, one that became similar to others happening around the country at a time when race relations were going from simmer to boil.  And then, there’s Charlottesville, right now – in 2017.  And here we are now, living in nice, safe, Lexington, MA, believing that these things won’t happen in our town.

We should delude ourselves no longer:  it was not that many years ago that the Westboro Baptist Church, spewing their hate-filled rhetoric, came into town.  It is a somewhat-regular occurrence that white supremacist groups appear on the Lexington green to celebrate the ‘freedoms’ that the American Revolution yielded.  We need to know that our voices – voices of UUs and all faithful people – must be heard, now, to counteract the hate-filled rhetoric.

And I know this:  this is why we have religious education…so that our children can learn about values that support equity and justice.  This is why we go to worship – many faiths, in many settings — whether we like the sermon or not…because in worship, we can share our values and find support for our message of love and hope.  And peaceful and continuing resistance.

Let us continue to pray that this does not happen in our town.  But let us remember that it happened in Hamden, CT and Charlottesville, VA.  It can happen here.  And we are called – all of us, of many ages – to learn the values of our faith and live it – bring it to the public square, to make sure that freedom and justice and equity endure.

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We drove to New Hampshire this weekend, looking forward to our “fourth annual pajama party” with two couples who are among our very closest friends.  We have known them for more years than I can easily count up, having met on Star Island, and through the years we have grown closer, sharing ups and downs of children, careers, our mutual celebrations – the mundane and glorious stuff of life.

This weekend was different, though. One of my friends is about to undergo a bilateral radical mastectomy – a surgery designed to not only take away the primary and secondary lesion found in her right breast, but to hopefully erase the possibility of cancer being found, in time, in her other breast.  She faces a preliminary surgery this week and the mastectomy will come the week after.

She is gutsy, my friend.  She set the table for dinner with place cards that carried this statement (author anonymous):  “Courage is looking fear right in the eye and saying, ‘Get the hell out of my way.  I’ve got things to do.'”  She has researched her procedure, she has planned her after-care, she has done everything she can to make this lousy turn of fortune go as well as it might.  Still, it sucks.

My other friend and I got together and planned a gift bag to present during the visit, filled with things that we hoped would help, at least a little – a special shirt for mastectomy patients that holds drains and tubes and velcros on and off; trashy magazines, a book on CD, chocolate, a picture frame for the hospital, and much more.  And of course, we brought food for the freezer and fridge, so that no one would have to worry about whether there’s some good soup or a meatloaf or pasta casserole available – it will be there.  We love each other like we were born from the same mother, I keep thinking, wanting to be there, support each other, help to take away some of the pain — even though we know that isn’t possible.

And the spouses — the amazing, supportive spouse of this woman, who has loved her for more than forty years, since they were teens — and the other two husbands…they talk as well.  My friend’s husband loves her not for her breasts but for her loving and generous spirit, her warmth and unflinching devotion to home and family. Sitting together the men ask questions about the procedure; they worry, and inside, they think, I am sure, “there but for the Grace of God…”. What else can you do, but (as Bob Franke wrote) ‘work and hope’…and believe that all will be well?

Last night at dinner, we drank a toast to the riches we shared, to the blessings of friendship.  We are so fortunate, all of us, to be in such good company, to know that we will continue to be there for one another.  As we talked the night away, ate amazing food, went from reflecting on the upcoming surgery to thinking about spring flowers and then on to politics, faith, our kids, and our upcoming vacation together, I kept looking around the room.  “How did I get so lucky?”, I kept wondering.  I can not imagine my life without these people, can not remember what it was like before I knew them.  They are part of our chosen family, not the people who share our blood – but they share our passion, our love, our values, and our commitment to one another.

On Wednesday my heart and head and spirit, and my prayers too, will be up north, in the operating room as my sister of the heart is wheeled in.  And I will also be sitting, in my mind’s eye, with her husband in that waiting room, hoping for the best possible news as nodes are analyzed and initial procedures done, knowing that there is so much more to this life that needs to be explored, celebrated, relished – for them, for all of us.

Yes, we’ve got things to do and much to celebrate.  And these people are more precious than gold, worth caring for and treasuring beyond all else.

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OK, I admit it’s a little corny, but I have always loved that song made popular by Bette Middler:  “You gotta have friends, the feeling’s oh-so-strong, you gotta have friends, to make the day last long…”  I used to go around the house singing it at high volume when I was a teen, because it just made me feel so good.

There are people who know me who are going to shake their heads when I say this, but the reality is that I am, inside, a pretty shy person.  I know how to go through the steps of behaving in an outgoing, even gregarious, way, but inside I’m frequently wanting to go sit in a corner with someone I know really well.  I am way better at doing the social butterfly act now than used to be the case…and I learned, early on, the trick that people said Jacqueline Kennedy used to deflect personal conversation:  I am good at asking people a question about themselves, which keeps them from asking about me, or making me talk about myself.

Really, when I was a kid, I often felt very, very alone — which, for an only child, can be pretty painful.  I don’t let people ‘in’ to my life quickly, but when I do, I am pretty much there with them forever.  If you are my friend, I will be with you through the bad and the good, and I will not let you go unless you screw me over royally — more than once.

I am one of the lucky people who married a man who is also a dear friend.  Ben and I have known each other since we were about four, and although we certainly took a long time to get together permanently and legally, the grounding of having been friends with, and worked with (on Star Island) someone who you like and admire and trust, can be the basis for a wonderful lifelong relationship.  Ben will love me when I am not loveable, he will listen to me whine and carry on and rarely complain, and he’ll also tell me the truth if he believes I’m off-base.  He loves to play games (me too), go off on road trips (moi aussi), and watch baseball (ditto).  It doesn’t hurt that we have a common set of values, even if we choose different ways to solve most any problem.

Of course, lots of people would expect you to name your spouse as your friend. But other friends can come few and far between. I am still in touch with the person who was my closest friend in high school and occasionally we skype (she lives in Canada, and has spent much of her life, since college, in Great Britain), and I have several people who I consider close friends here in the greater Boston area.

But since I was a freshman in college, I’ve been absolutely blessed to have one real longstanding ‘best friend.’  Connie was, when we first met, everything I aspired to be — self-assured, sophisticated, tall, thin, a clothes-horse.  She had lived in Geneva, Switzerland, where her father worked in DuPont’s International Textiles division.  Educated at the International School, she arrived at college with a trunk of Chanel suits and could, I soon found out, swear like a sailor.  I came to school from New Haven, Connecticut, with many of my clothes made by my mother, overportected, scared and homesick and very unsure of myself.  I remember that the rumor was that this gorgeous Amazonian creature was came from royal blood, and for a while, I believed it.

I watched from afar for a few days, but Connie and I really started to connect at a fraternity mixer (yes, this was the age when the frat boys at RPI held parties to ‘check out’ the promising new crop of girls — and that is what we were called — who had arrived at Russell Sage College).  Most of the young women had already passed out from drinking the frat party “Pink Thing” punch, but Connie and I were still standing, and we started talking.  We continued to hang out together…Connie preparing to be a registered nurse, me immersed in English literature and theatre studies.  We went to more parties, studied together, hitched rides to Vermont to visit Connie’s boyfriend, were occasional ‘bad girls,’ talked LOTS, and built a powerful connection.  Connie taught me about cheese fondue and drinking shots of really good Russian vodka, how to dress, and what it meant to be self-reliant, and I guess I may have offered her a connection to someone with a creative personality and a well-grounded typical American family.  Both my parents adored her, she came home for weekends and school breaks (Geneva was a long way to fly home) and my folks quickly decided they were ready to ‘adopt’ her.

Connie left school after her freshman year:  her father suffered a devastating stroke, her emotionally-abusive mother decided she was needed at home, the money ran out.  She moved to North Carolina, where her family had lived before moving to Switzerland and where they had returned post-stroke, working there until she fled to Vermont to join her soon-to-be husband, John, and before long, she married.  She worked as a waitress, then a veterinary technician, finished college, and there were moves to Maine and later, Montana, where she remains today.

Through it all, we have remained close.  If we’re lucky, we see one another every couple of years.  We talk on the phone from time to time, and when we do get together, we usually make jam, jelly, or other homemade canned goodies, go swimming or hot-tubbing, explore or shop, sit around and cocktail and talk a lot.  At Christmas time, I try to send her lots of homemade Christmas cookies, which I know she and her husband, John, will sit down and devour within a day.  She sends me some of her homemade preserves and ‘Made in Montana” delights.  We both get excited when those packages, which represent who we are, arrive.

Our lives are very different, but miraculously, there is still much to be shared.  When our younger daughter was born, she received her middle name to honor Connie – a woman who never had children of her own, who has more guts and courage and principles than most people I’ve ever known.  If Abby holds one ounce of Connie’s fortitude, she will be well-served in life.

Connie and I talked on the phone just the other night, and though I have no idea when I will next see her next, I felt the powerful connection that the years have only increased.  I know that she is there, ready to talk and listen, as I will be for her, now and as the years go on. I treasure the riches that come from knowing I am so blessed.

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