foreverest friends and the incomparable lessons of the heart
because this week paused to celebrate the glories of the ever-pulsing heart, and because i happened to board a jet plane and criss-cross the country, to land in the state of movie stars and swaying palms, where i am romping with my foreverest friend, i decided a love letter was the order of the day. . . and, besides, who ever grows old of lettres d’amour?
this is going to be a love letter to my very, very best forever-and-ever friend, yet it’s also a love letter to friends of the deepest-down sort. i call my forever-and-ever friend the Divine Ms M. and sometimes i call her Auntie M, because she is auntie to my bookends of boys. she lives 2,041 miles away, in sunny LA, which is far too far for afternoon mugs of tea, or long mornings side-by-side on a park bench, or those other indulgences of forever friendships. i’ve said that she saved my life. but what she really did was teach me how it feels to be loved in the deepest nooks and crannies of the heart, and she taught it in a way that felt so very very heavenly, so otherworldly, i’ve spent the rest of my life trying to love like she loves.
it was second semester of my sophomore year of college, and suddenly there was a willowy blond-haired beauty with big big eyes and an even bigger heart who had moved onto our wing of the second floor of a mostly-sophomore dorm, a dorm with clunky elevators and skanky carpet ribboned along long dark hallways, a dorm that looked out over nothing so scenic as endless parking lot. this new someone, a brand-new freshman among us second years, carried herself with an elegance i spied miles away. in the thick of downtown milwaukee, a california girl is a rarity.
right away i noticed her tender heart. maybe she noticed mine.
we’d both suffered a few tough knocks, knocks still raw for both of us. not the sorts of things you say much about till you’ve sniffed around, made sure the coast is clear and you’re in a safe heart zone.
it wasn’t long till we must have realized there was a certain pull that held us; it had been a long long time since i had a friend to whom i could safely hand my whole heart. but i knew she was just that friend. what i remember most emphatically is that, for a reason that long ago escaped me, she one day knocked on my dorm room door, and sat down beside me with a basket. every delicately-selected something in that basket was speaking to a different turn of the prism’s light. i seem to remember an apple. and a tea bag. but i don’t remember a single other thing. i do remember that little squares of folded-up paper explained each and every something. and i remember my breath was sucked away, because each and every something burrowed deeper and deeper into the heart of me. she had covered the whole expanse of a many-chambered heart with a few fine things tucked in a handled, wicker basket.
we’ve shared hard years, and a few sweet rejoicings, over all these years. the sorts of years lifelong friends inevitably share: deaths, disease, weddings, births, worries, worries, more worries.
and after almost 15 years of only phone calls, and emails, and brown paper packages mailed back and forth, and more recently the miracle of texting in real time (whether it be from an emergency room, or a surgical waiting room, or the children’s library where she enchants the kindergarteners), we have tumbled into each other’s real life arms. i hopped a plane and tagged along my bespectacled mate as he motors off to the california desert, and the oasis that is palm springs, to give a sunday talk. we decided to make it a hop, skip, and a jump trip. one that plopped us first in sunny LA, and then will find us out palm springs way.
for a million and one reasons, this visit is just what the doctor ordered. and it will upholster me (another word for plump me up, or cushion me) for the weeks to come.
i hope and pray we all have a Divine Ms M in our lives, that rare someone whose hearing is so high-grade she or he can hear the words we utter without sound. whose sight is keen to the faintest of subtle twitches, the ones we try to hide deep inside the smiles we sometimes wear. i am blessed with a glorious handful of such friends. some make me laugh so hard i nearly choke on whatever’s in my mug. some set me straight with unabashed, unfiltered truth talk. some hold my hand so tight it forgets to tremble.some bowl me over with a brilliance and a sheaf of wisdoms that leave me gobsmacked.but there’s no one who goes so far back to what might be my new beginning, not long out from a hellhole of a dark, dark chapter in my early days. my LA girl brought me sunshine, and all these 46 years later, she still holds the secret wand to chase away whatever big gray cloud dares to scuttle in.
in honor of friendship, and its miraculous healing powers that make us strongest in our broken places, here’s a beauty of a poem from jane hirschfield, a wunder poet and ordained practitioner of soto zen buddhism.
For What Binds Us
There are names for what binds us:
strong forces, weak forces.
Look around, you can see them:
the skin that forms in a half-empty cup,
nails rusting into the places they join,
joints dovetailed on their own weight.
The way things stay so solidly
wherever they’ve been set down —
and gravity, scientists say, is weak.
And see how the flesh grows back
across a wound, with a great vehemence,
than the simple, untested surface before.
There’s a name for it on horses,
when it comes back darker and raised: proud flesh,
as all flesh
is proud of its wounds, wears them
as honors given out after battle,
small triumphs pinned to the chest —
And when two people have loved each other
see how it is like a
scar between their bodies,
stronger, darker, and proud;
how the black cord makes of them a single fabric
that nothing can tear or mend.
~ Jane Hirschfield ~
(Of Gravity & Angels)
what are some of the ways you learned to love from someone you happened to tumble into in the hollows of your holy blessed life?