when the phone ruins the day

until a few minutes ago, my day was humming along. i sat here typing. about snow. about a dusting of snow that came before dawn.

then the phone rang.

it was my oldest best friend. the one who has been through every twist and turn of my heart in the last 33 years. the one whose voice has always been balm to whatever ails me, the voice of tenderness itself.

the best friend who long, long ago, taught me, perhaps, the lastingest lesson about just how to love, when the one who needs love is your very own self.

“i have breast cancer,” she said, minutes ago.

just like that–no preamble–that’s what she said. those words that pierce and destroy.

i’ve heard them before. heard them too many times.

once from my mother. once from my east-coast best friend. to name but two times in a long, hollow litany.

this though is the best friend who moved down the hall my sophomore year of college and wholly captured my heart, who i lived with back when we were young and, often, spinning in circles, who was maid of honor at my wedding, who is godmother to my little one, the one i call my miracle.

she has had trials already, my very best friend. melanoma, among them, just a few years ago.

and now, this lump in her breast, a lump discovered nine months ago. a lump, checked right away and mostly dismissed. not by my friend though, she kept close watch. and that lump, just a while ago, it decided to change.

this time the test came back with these words from her doctor: “this is not the news i was hoping to give you,” he told her.

and so my best friend called me.

that’s what best friends do. we hold each other up. we share one deck in the cards of life. she’s dealt a card, it becomes mine. and vice versa.

we don’t shirk, run or hide. we step right up, we do the lifting. we hold each other’s hearts, often, more firmly than we hold our own.

we don’t edit our thoughts, or our words when life is upturned and one needs the other. we spill as it comes, knowing every last drop will be sopped up, taken care of.

the chamber in which we talk is the place where knowing comes swift, where silence is filled with deep understanding. the beauty of friendship, when it’s deep, when it’s real, is that it is the essence of life itself.

we are, through our history, through our ups and our downs but always together, pulled into a primal language of love leaning up against love.

you needn’t hold back, needn’t protect, when you’re deep in the work of propping up your very best friend.

right away, she said, her thoughts turned to the one thing that mattered the most: her daughter, her long-legged, blond-haired, brainy, 12-year-old molly.

“it wasn’t, ‘oh, i can’t handle it,’ or ‘poor me,’” she said, as i scribbled her words, an old habit picked up from years of recording whatever folks say.

“what tore me apart was molly. it’s the mother in you. i don’t want her to be afraid, i don’t want her to have a sick mommy.”

and so i just listened. woulda leapt through the phone if i could.

couldn’t stand being half a country away.

what is it with this damn cancer?

i’ve been following a friend in new york, just barely 30. two weeks ago, had a double mastectomy.

other best friend in new york, mother of three on long island. she called and said the same thing, years ago now. she had the surgery, the chemo, weeks of radiation. she still holds her breath. every year, every month, every day.

there are women who come to this table, who count themselves among the survivors.

they know what it is–as my young friend in new york wrote just this week–to be afraid that every mole, every headache is cancer.

to wonder, quite realistically, who would care for their kids, who would give them the talk (quaintly put: the one about the birds and the bees), who would shop for the prom dress, who would recount all the stories from when they were babies…..

my best friend is now among the ranks.

and i, once again, am praying like mad, and doubling my heart. i’ve got a faraway friend who needs me again.

she needs me to be strong.

to believe.

to listen.

and to tenderly care for her heart, as she gets on with the business of beating this cancer.

today turned out to be more of a ramble, than a meander. it’s what happens when you are knocked flat, find yourself trembling…..i trust you understand……so here are the questions…

who and how have you held up the ones you’ve most loved? who held you, when you needed the holding?

and, p.s., whisper a prayer for mary mullane, an angel without the wings…..