Last night I got to hug my oldest friend. Not old in age, but old in friendship. She’s in my first memories, my earliest recollections of her being when I was around 3 years old. She taught me how to dress up kitties, and play church with them as our deviant, sulking children, she taught me the game Dead Possum (which I now suspect may have been an original with her), how to suck the pimento out of a green olive, and how to ride double on a banana seat bike. We went on vacations together, spent many summer nights camping with our sleeping bags side by side in a tiny tent, shared (and fell out of) a twin-sized top bunk bed, loved animals together, answered each other's phone calls of “Houston, we have a problem” so many times Houston became a nickname, went on double dates, sobbed on each other’s shoulders through break ups, were bridesmaids in each other's weddings, got ourselves into countless conundrums and embarrassing moments, laughed ourselves into paralysis, and scared each other stiff in the dark nights of many a sleep over.
Time rolled on as it has a habit of doing, and we started families and our lives took different paths and we saw less of each other. She is so often the one I think of when I get myself into an absurd situation, or the laughter I hear ringing in my ears when I reminisce about days gone by. But I don’t do a very good job of letting her know how often she is present in my thoughts and her absence is felt in my heart. The past few years have held some dark days for both of us. We’ve sat at each other’s kitchen tables a few times while the kids played, and spoke quietly of fear and depression and longing and loss. She has endured throbbing pain in her body and heart that I can’t imagine, shouldered heavy responsibilities that it still seems like we should be too young to be presented with, and seen too many hospital rooms in the last 2 years.
Last night she was in one again. This time she sat in a chair beside the bed of her man, smiling softly while he slept the heavy, distant sleep of a body trying to recover from a brain injury. She told me of her last few longer-than- life days, of going from the needs of her tiny infant, to the needs of her Kindergartner sick with a stomach bug, to the bedside of her husband suffering in the ICU. I tried to keep my eyes from spilling over when she said it was as if all the hardest things were happening at once, and we both acknowledged having had words with God because it was all too much. And yet there she was; her baby softly sleeping on a waiting room sofa, oblivious to his family’s crisis, her smile ready and her words clear as she spoke of good reports and better days. Though I saw anxiety in her eyes for the future with all the unknowns a recovery like his holds, she was present, showing up each day for her scariest season yet.
I wish that prayers and a hug felt like enough. I wish that faith in God’s goodness overpowered the fear of suffering and loss and life as we know it being upended in a flash. I wish the cliché “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle” was actually true, that we could be spared from seasons that are too much. I wish it wouldn’t take seeing one of our goofiest, favorite friends silent and still on a hospital bed to make me stop and take notice of the callouses on Dave’s thumb resting against mine, or the strength in his steps when he chases the girls up to bed.
In reality, friendship is a lot easier when the struggle is over who should sit in front and steer the banana seat bike. Friendship in motion is so much more natural than friendship in stillness. Banter feels more friendly than silence. Comfortable friendship is more a vase of fresh flowers, low maintenance and easy, lovely to look at, but unable to endure seasons. Friendships that endure the seasons are more like a deep, rooted perennial. A tulip blooming and vibrant in the spring seasons, but in other seasons simply present and green, nothing flashy or fancy, and in the winters, silent and still in the dark and the cold. Believing together that the sun will warm the earth again, bringing forth laughter and hope and brighter days.
I don’t know much about being a good friend in the winter seasons. I want to string up an artificial light and avoid the dark days. I feel frustrated that I can’t fix the broken things. I can’t prevent the pain. I can’t pretend my faith is unfaltering.
I do know this. I saw my friend smile by her husband’s hospital bed, and it looked like courage. I saw her there, in her hardest days yet, and it looked like faith. Not because she wasn’t scared, but because she was given the strength to show up. I saw her parents there, sitting with her through the difficult days and nights, and it looked like tender love. I saw a life spared, a breath of relief and a light of hope. It all looked like grace, and I a thankful witness. I saw the way Dave’s eyes lingered on the girls and I last night, the way we held each other’s hand a little longer when the lights were turned out, and it looked like savoring.
If you have an oldest friend, one who’s stories and fears you know by heart even if time has altered the landscape of your friendship, make a call or meet for dinner. Savor the smiles and the sound of her voice.
**The best news of the day is, no hospital room tonight. he's coming home!