Sunday Morning ~ Reaching Out
Bwenzi mdi mtanthira, miamba udaolotsa khoswe. ~ Friendship is a bridge, the fish helped the mouse to cross.
~ Chewa proverb
April 26, 2020
Earth Day was this week and a friend asked me what I did on the first Earth Day fifty years ago. She said she and her friends rode their bikes to school and it was a vivid memory. I thought back and could not remember the first Earth Day. Nothing. Nada. Don’t remember it being a thing at all. I was in eighth grade, probably thinking about softball season. Might have still been a cheerleader for basketball, but that season was probably over by then. Anyway, not a single recollection. I don’t remember our teachers talking about it, nothing on the news, I couldn’t find even a piece of lint in my memory containing the fibers of the first Earth Day. I pride myself on remembering a lot about childhood, so this was disturbing me a little. When we had our Friday night check-in, I asked my high school friends if they remember doing anything for the first Earth Day? The responses were unanimously negative. “Wait, when is it? When was the first one?” I wonder if some of the older kids pulled the old tires and shopping carts out of the Assabet River that day? We struggled to remember who our science teacher was that year. When we finally remembered, the traits we recalled were not environmentalism but rather bullying and the knack he had for making students cry. And yet, look how good we all turned out!
This week I’ve been thinking about friends. It’s so interesting how this pandemic has reconnected me or deepened my relationship to many friends. In my attempt to support the postal system I’ve been sending out at least one card per day. In response, I got a call this week from a relative of one of my ex’s and we had a splendid chat. It was such a gift! It’s an art, I’m learning, to remain friends with people you’d thought you’d lose when a relationship goes south. They are like tender seedlings I’m learning. Takes some nurturing.
I reached out this week to a long lost friend I grew up with. Her family lived close to mine, though the town was so small no one was very far away. We spent many hours walking, knitting, talking, reading, and when we got to be adolescents, taking the train into Boston together to go shopping. I can’t believe we were allowed to do that but I don’t remember it ever being an issue. Maybe we didn’t ask. I never saw her again after we graduated high school. I never communicated with her again either. I went off to college and made different friends, stopped coming home for summers after my freshman year, met my future husband, and went on to a very different life. I never knew what happened to her.
Almost two years ago I tried to find her through Facebook. What a little gem that is for something like this. I know it’s rubbish for a lot of reasons, but for finding old friends, it’s really very handy. Anyway, I never found her there but did find her sister who I wrote to. I asked about the whereabouts of my lost friend and if I might get her contact information. It took almost two years to get a response but I did this week. And I wrote. And she wrote back. And I am overwhelmed.
I thought about that overwhelmed feeling as I reflected on what she wrote. It’s been forty-six years. She mentioned images that stuck in her mind about me and about my mother and family. It was so beautifully and eloquently written. It was like reading a beautiful poem about parts of my life, some I had considered mundane. She made them beautiful. While I remember my bedroom as an unheated attic where I spent hours crying about the tragedy of my life, she wrote about as a cozy secluded refuge. My mother leaving my laundry on the steps to the attic, I thought of as a tedious chore she resented, snapping at me to put them away as I often just took what I needed and left the rumpled pile there on the steps. My friend remembered this act as a loving gesture of a graceful woman caring for her family. I realize now how inconsiderate my teenage behavior was to my mother, who was indeed caring for me. Had I apologized for that behavior? Ever? Before she died? Thanked her, ever, for doing my laundry? My friend remembered things I hadn’t thought about in years. The things she chose to write about, things that stood out in her memory, took my breath away. I was way too young to understand the complexities of our separate circumstances. How humbling to see them highlighted differently.
When we were young teens we often walked six or seven miles, maybe more, on Sunday afternoons. We never stopped talking, kicking leaves, exploring landscapes. She was wise for her age. She was so kind. She had beautiful hair. She sat in front of me in history class. Once I had something in my eye and was going mad trying to get it out. She turned around and saw my struggle, gently leaned toward me and took a single strand of hair from my bangs out of my eye, as if it were the size of a pencil. She smiled at me as my agony resolved and turned back to the blackboard covered in chalky sanitized history about great white men who fought and saved us. I’ve never forgotten that moment. It stands out in all the hours we spent together. An act of kindness, yes, but it was more than that. It was knowing me, knowing it was ok to touch me and reach out to help. It was no expectation of thanks or praise. It was a human connection in a world that was not kind to either of us, but especially unkind to her.
Two people this week have lifted me and made me feel important and loved. A phone call and an email. They made me richer and more secure. They made me smile more, walk lighter, sleep better. They made me believe more in the value of reaching out. It’s always the correct answer.
Love to all,