This week the Friday Five focus is on friends—five friends who have shaped our lives. An interesting topic for a week in which I learned that one of my closest friends has been diagnosed with a tenacious cancer. I find myself looking back at our almost forty-year friendship that began when were in our twenties and has continued into our sixties. What a rich gift her friendship has been to me. We started teaching together. We negotiated school politics together. (She has the better sense for politics. No wonder she ended up teaching American Government and creating generations of activists!) She was there when I left my first husband. She was there when I got remarried—matron of honor. She was there at my ordination though it was thousands of miles from her home. And she was there when we sorted out my mom’s things after her death. (Imagine a friend who knows you well enough to know what you would want to keep and what you would want to pitch!) Wife, mother, grandmother, daughter, sister, friend, neighbor, teacher, colleague, mentor—she draws a world into a web woven with threads of kindness, determination and curiosity. She defines determination and defies limits. She always has. In ten days, after she has gone through her first round of chemo, we’re going to the State Fair together with any grandchildren with the energy to keep up with us.
As I sit with this question and with the friends gathered in a life-time, I find myself remembering my first friends—neighbors who ushered me into the passions of their lives: Mrs. Campbell, who taught me how to sew and who offered me safe harbor whenever I needed to make a fast getaway from some mischief I had made; Mrs. Turnbull who let us play with her make-up and turned a blind eye to water-balloon fights over her deck; Rev. Sinclair who spent a night searching the park for my stuffed rabbit.
A smile crosses my face as I think about my other teaching friend who continues to be a close friend though we haven’t worked together for decades and haven’t lived in the same state for thirty years. Nonetheless, neither of us can go by a store without thinking about what the other would see in the window! And when my mom died, she was at the house before the coroner even called. She said to my brother, “Get us some gin. Some really good gin. Now.” It was just what he needed to hear—an outrageous order that would give him an excuse to avoid seeing what he couldn’t bear to see.
There’s the priest who has taught me more about being a priest than anyone else. He’s long-retired now, but he’s still guiding me through the ups and downs of life as a priest. We meet for coffee almost every week. We chat about church, our lives, the books we are reading (he a biography of Heydrich, I a biography of Bonhoeffer; he a novel about Bonhoeffer, I a trashy mystery), and what it means to be a priest. This week we talked about the eucharist and the tough words from John’s gospel. When my life feels like it’s collapsing around me, I call him. He always knows how to say things even if he doesn’t say much at all. He’s a great priest in the Anglo-Catholic tradition. He’s a great friend.
But my best friend is the man with whom I share my life. When we met, we were both history teachers. We fought about Theodore Roosevelt. We still don’t agree about TR or Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but we love to continue the conversation. My best friend can see my moods coming before they even arrive. He’s my rock. My bicycle mechanic. My companion for life. I love his steadiness. I love his courage. I love his persistence. I love the way he challenges me and I love the way he holds me up when things get tough. How glad I am that we met at that teaching workshop not far from TR’s summer home. Maybe one day I can even convince him that there was a lot of blowhard in TR. Maybe one day he can convince me that TR was a man whose actions reflected his words.