In everyone's life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit. ~ Albert Schweitzer
Some days there are no words. But a simple, sweet text message brought color and clarity and perspective to my melancholy world this morning. How do you measure the impact . . . and how can you adequately honor the the gift . . . of a golden friend and a few well-timed words of encouragement in a dark place? So in the abyss . . . in my brain blog fog . . . I am re-posting this "love story" from Autumn 2013.
It was the most likely of friendships that began in the quiet halls of a military hospital. It was likely and inevitable, and the fact that I was completely oblivious could not have stopped it from happening.
The youngest of our two daughters, five and two, had recently been diagnosed with Cancer. The oldest of their two daughters, five and two, was recovering from an operation for hip dysplasia. Theirs was an unfortunate event; ours was one that rendered us shell shocked and curled inside ourselves. They watched our family, the four of us ghosting through the halls of the pediatric wing, and they speculated, but kept their distance out of respect.
Fast forward several months later. . . our five year old, Brittany, is beginning kindergarten. I stand outside on a crisp and colorful fall afternoon waiting for dismissal amidst the clatter of other kindergarten mothers pulling wagons, pushing strollers, holding toddlers. We’re pretty much all in the same stage of life. This is how friendships begin. But I stand off to the side, friendless. It’s late November, and we have just settled on the military base, our fate having been in limbo for months due to Kelsey Brooke’s illness. She is stable now, and our lives interrupted, paused like the most mundanely curious scene of a movie in which a young mother is stoically holding a pale, bald child tightly in her arms between an empty playground and typical redbrick school suddenly resumes. She approaches tentatively, her own sweet little girl in tow, and I take notice of the abundance of white-blond hair and the bow that matches the blue of her Kayla’s eyes. I wait for her to ask the questions. Instead she surprises me with a smiling, “I remember you.” “You do?” I say, blankly. And she tells me the story. “We didn’t want to bother you,” she says of that time in the hospital. And with the ringing of the school bell, a blessed degree of normalcy returns, and an epic friendship begins as our daughters come pouring out of separate classrooms to find us in the crowd, together. Her Rachael with the flowing dark hair gives me hope, and I take note, with pleasure, of how her youngest favors my oldest; petite pixy blonds with shy, mischeivous grins.
Fast forward five years. . . our family separates from the military and resumes civilian life among family in Michigan. Her husband, Shawn, makes Captain, and they move away from family to Colorado. But layers of life leave their mark and seal us all into one another’s hearts and souls. . . forever, maybe? Five years of seasons. Preschool carpooling, more kindergarten, first days of everything spent side by side. Dance recitals in the spring. Barbeques and family baseball games and swimming at the base pool on languid summer afternoons. Soccer games in the fall that move into winter huddles grasping coffee cups beneath a warming tent celebrating and straining to spot four healthy children flashing red on a frosty field. Holidays, Halloweens with parties and creatively conspired costumes, Christmas seasons marked by school concerts, the glowing lights of weekend Winterfests, and the spontaneous delight of occasional snow days (Hey, come on down! We’ll make hot chocolate and put in a movie for the girls!). I wish I hadn’t done that parenting mistakes (did we actually enter them into an Easter pageant?. . . cheerleading for six year olds? Really?) and shared victories . . Potty training down. . . check. . . no more chemo. . . check. . . Rachael got the class citizenship award?! So did Kelsey! Two and a half minutes of holding our breath as Brittany gets every step of her Christopher Robin ballet routine down, Rachael rocks Cotton Eyed Joe, and Kayla and Kelsey stumble adorably through Sweet Georgia Brown. . . High five! High Five! And we celebrate at the Old Spaghetti Factory in the city every year. More seasons, more birthdays. . . October, December, April, and August. . . and our paths diverge. . . I go back to school, and am wistful when she brings home a son. And then, this season is over. We are leaving first, and while our house is being packed up over the course of a week, she insists that we stay with them. Our daughters play and are bewildered, a shadow hanging over everyone and everything - especially Brittany. Ohio is our home, not Michigan, and she vows to come back here some day with Aunt Pam and Rachael and Beverly Gardens Elementary School because when you are nine, nothing should ever change when you love your life and your best friend.
Fast forward a year, five, fifteen . . . At first the three hour drive distance between us is bridged by occasional weekend visits, exchanges of children during summer vacation weeks, and Sunday dinners at Cracker Barrel in Findlay, Ohio – a halfway point between Dayton and Detroit. Then, over the course of the next decade, they move to Colorado, then the Netherlands, Tennessee, and they’ll always be a part of our lives, except they’re not anymore.
Fast forward some more years to November 2013. . . They have been back in Ohio for a few years, and we are still in Michigan. . . routinely, we stop on the way to or coming home from a vacation . . . we drive three hours to attend their granddaughter's birthday party. . . meet them half way for a Christmas season dinner. . . they attend our daughter's wedding. . . and on a random, crisp November morning we talk of the years, over coffee and amidst the swirling leaves of autumn in my backyard. The sun is enough to warm our hearts, but not our hands as we clutch our mugs and pull our blankets closer. We sit in tilting patio chairs and talk of empty nests and the hold of children and grandchildren on our hearts . . . and retirement. . . Would we consider Florida with them? It is the first conversation I have ever had of retirement, and I am thrown. Neither of us, none of us have reached 50. There is so much living left to do. But our chidren are grown, and the years fly by. No matter what is in between. . . it is never to early to plan to be a part of each other's lives. I can feel the morning, the moment coming to a close as the breeze becomes a chilling wind, and I'm disappointed, because I want to prolong, and savor this moment when I realize that this friendship spanning twenty-two years has crossed a line. It has become infinite and irrevocable, defining who we are and who we've become. The swirling sun-warmed wind becomes an ocean breeze and a promise of tomorrow that takes my breath away.