Growing apart doesn't change the fact that for a long time we grew side by side; our roots will always be tangled. I'm glad for that. ~Ally Condie
I managed to fit in a lot of reflection on this as my friend Dawn and I worked our way through a college class full of material from Tuesday-Friday in attendance at an educational coaching seminar in Downtown Detroit. It was the perfect next step for both of us and we were in our element, remembering how we used to coach each other through the daily roller coaster ride of teaching 6th grade, and then as content specialists in the inner city. We complemented each other perfectly. She did the math and science, I did the reading and social studies . . . then we'd flip kids and teach the same lessons in the afternoon, debriefing during the transitions and often in impromptu meetings at our adjoining classroom doors, commiserating on which kids to give hell, which kids to go easy on (Johnny's in rare form, catch him early . . . Tiffany doesn't feel well, I already called home). We were sympatico. . . partners in the Bell Tower . . . Yin and Yang on the sixth floor. And then . . . there were those other days, those stretches even. . . of power struggles and standoffs, cold shoulders and rallying side conversations with other colleagues about who was wrong and what was right . . . early morning and late afternoon shouting matches and meltdowns. There was silence and space and soul-searching. And apologies and forgiveness because in the larger scheme of things, it just didn't seem so important anymore. And I think, really, that these are the truest and most enduring friendships, the kind that can face down differences of opinion and diverging paths and different seasons, and then maybe even skip over a few seasons to come back around when it really counts. . . the kind that add to us . . . the ones that once made us better.
I was working all of these things out for myself on Tuesday, marveling that here we were, in another stage of life with eleven years of history bonding us, cultivating that Yin Yang again . . . I thanked her for the work she had done to get me into that seminar last minute, and she said, "But don't you remember? You did it for me . . . the year you pushed for me to get the job as the math specialist . . ." And I did remember, and I had to laugh when I got home because on that very afternoon, my daughter had blogged about suddenly being overwhelmed in the midst of intense emotion at a Christian conference of hundreds of passionate, powerful ladies and confessed frustration in her quest for authentic female friendship because "women scare the absolute hell out of me." I laughed because I had to acknowledge that in the world of women, true friendships are not for wussies. Thankfully, her blog is entitled Not Waving the White Flag:) . . . and I'll let her tell her own story, but I'll also tell you that things came full circle on Saturday morning when she texted me to ask for friendship advice about her daughter . . . my granddaughter.
Mackenzie is the sweet blonde at the top of the page and this is a real photo snapped at the exact second a friendship was born. Dahlia had kindergarten jitters that morning, so Kenzie took her hand and walked her through -- and it's been a "bumpy yellow bus you're not my best friend anymore sit with me don't sit with me you're not invited to my party kind of ride" ever since. So much so that momma is wondering if it's time to climb in through the emergency exit and take charge. We worked out ensuring a separation in classrooms next year to give them some space. Between that and the summer months, it is our hope that their little hearts will prevail in love and grace at some point. I told Brittany what I am praying for little Dahlia and Mackenzie . . . that that very first moment will be the defining one that they will always remember, and not all those painful, mean girl moments in between.
And it matters. It really does matter. Just ask my seventy-six year old mother-in-law. I told her about this blog in draft, and asked if she had any good friend stories. Without hesitation, her eyes lit up and she told me about a "wonderful friend" she grew up with in Chicago named Gloria. And when she moved to Wheaton, Illinois, Gloria's parents, recognizing the depth of the girls' friendship followed and the families opened a business together. Later, in their high school years, they inexplicably grew apart. So far apart that they would see each other coming and cross to the other side of the road just to avoid talking. It seemed they had nothing to say anymore. But years later, after my mother in law married, had three sons, and was tragically widowed, they reconnected. She would spend long afternoons with Gloria, talking with her for hours, and was comforted by her presence, her familiarity, their history. I asked her where Gloria was now, if she was still alive . . . she looked wistful, and said that they hadn't connected for a while, and that maybe she would search for her on Facebook. I hope she finds her.
If you've been a piece of my puzzle -- and you know who you are -- I am thinking of you wistfully right now, counting back over the years and remembering exactly where it was that you fit in. Maybe you sat on my desk in math class one day, and I was having a bad day and told you to get off . . . and then you became my best friend. Maybe you moved away to Georgia and had about a dozen babies just like you always said you would, but I never forgot that you made me believe that Jesus really did love me. Maybe you showed up on my front porch one afternoon with a baby on your hip because I wasn't brave enough to show up on yours. Maybe you charmed me with your British accent and then typed up my first college paper for me. Maybe we played Boggle and watched the Gulf War on CNN late into the night while our babies slept and our husbands worked. Maybe God sent you to step in just at the exact second when my world was falling apart and you were the only person I would have, could have handed my baby over to right then. Maybe you taught me to nurse my babies and you think I'm one of the smartest people you know when you are actually the one who speaks fluent Japanese and missed your calling as a dietician. Maybe I consider you my very first real friend because you melted my frozen heart . . . and then you told me once that I thought my daughter was perfect . . . and years later, after a few seasons had gone by, you agreed . . . when your son married her. Maybe the letters that you sent on colored stationary every week or so when I moved across the Atlantic mattered more than you can imagine because I never told you so. Maybe our daughters were inseparable and so were we and I drifted away when it wasn't your choice and was sorry for it later. Maybe our friendship has survived longer and stronger than our daughters' and we celebrate this every autumn over Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Lattes. Maybe our hearts will be forever sealed because we taught and fought with all our hearts from the same classroom(s) for the same children for the same years. Maybe you read between the lines from the Wicked poem I left on your desk or from the words we listened to in our balcony seats that said you changed me for good. I really meant it. Maybe when we come to visit you in Florida, we'll stay. Maybe we'll walk the Appalachian Trail someday and we'll drink wine in the mountains while you deliver more sage advice to keep me sane. Maybe you showed up just in time to inspire me in a way that changed my life. Maybe you're the best friend I've ever had, or the missing piece that I haven't even met yet. Maybe I'll be telling my granddaughter about you someday. If we had any knock down drag outs, all the better. If we just drifted away, maybe you're on your way back just around the next season. We have history. And you matter. Friendship matters.