Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Being Friends

I feel so lucky to have J. as a friend. We met in the park about two years ago, walking our dogs. Those early-morning accidental meetings gradually led to deeper and more honest conversation about our lives (interspersed with picking up dog poop and commenting on the weather, the ducks in the creek, and the strange characters who hang out at the park at 7 a.m.)

One day I was telling her about the loneliness of ministry, especially in a small town like this where NEARLY ALL the cool people are already in one’s congregation. Since one can’t be friends with one’s members and still minister to them with integrity, there is quite a bit of self-sacrifice involved. She immediately blurted “I’ll be your friend!” and indeed she has been ever since.

We went to Weight Watchers together and provided the support (and the sarcastic commentary) to keep each other on track with the program until I reached my goal and she came close to hers. We have joined a book group together, through which I have met other cool women who are not in my congregation. We have done confession and contrition, and told each other some of our most important stories. And with her I always feel that there is so much more that is possible between us in the way of a rich and rewarding friendship. All it would take is more time.

We are both busy – I with work in ministry, and she with landscaping her yard, maintaining the house she lives in and more than one rental property, travel, writing, and artistic endeavors. Sometimes weeks go by without our seeing each other (because she doesn’t have the dog any more, and who in their right mind would come out to the park at 7:00 a.m. when the temperature is 19 if they didn’t have to?)

By dint of careful planning and persistence, we managed a full 4 hours together today, and I am feeling replete with gratitude for having such a friend. We went to a brief talk given by a Dickinson College professor who is a member of my congregation, and I was delighted to see about 20 other members there to cheer him on. Then we went out for dinner, followed by a long soak in her hot tub and a wonderful conversation, after which she drove me home (it being 19 again by 8:30 p.m.)

When I was younger, I took my friends for granted. I met them mostly through my children or through work. Good people, interesting people, with whom I had a lot in common. It was easy to make friends, and the circumstances of our lives threw us together frequently enough that friendships were easy to maintain.

Now my children are adults living elsewhere, and the very nature of my work precludes friendships except with colleagues, who by definition don’t live here in my town. I am very fortunate to have Berry’s Dad living under the same roof, who is both colleague, friend and life partner. Many of my single colleagues are not so lucky, and I hold their loneliness in my heart with considerable empathy.

But I am a woman, and I long for women friends. I am so grateful to J. for her outburst of affection and support when she said “I’ll be your friend!” and for the way she has stuck by me ever since.

Tonight in her hot tub I was talking about our eventual move back to the west coast when we retire, and how painful it will be to leave both the folks in my congregation whom I love, and my family members who live at least in the same time zone: my married daughter (whose husband I adore) and my two brothers and their wives and families. But I neglected to tell her how much I would miss her, and how much her loyal friendship has meant to me.

J., you know who you are. And I am here in front of God and everybody to tell you that I love you and I am so glad we are friends! Thank you for your friendship, which has meant more to me over the past two years than I can ever tell you.


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