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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Tale of Two Siblings

Once upon a time, there was a little girl. She had a big brother who made her cry, and then made her laugh- quickly so that she wouldn't tell their mom. He taught her how to go for bike rides without waiting for parental approval, how to choose her own sense of offbeat fashion, and how to swear if the snowmobile got stuck in a drift.

He was the coolest big brother in the world. So cool that the little sister knew she would never measure up. He would always laugh at her for choosing to stay home on a Friday night, content to create collage at the dining room table instead of tearing up the town. He would always show disdain for the sister's attachment to family- her joy at loving her sisters, her desire to please their parents, her choice of youth group over bush parties and ice skating over drunk driving.

The little sister loved her brother. When he was out, she would go into his room, study his collection of bottles, his ratty old sweaters patched at the shoulder with a bit of chain, his Pink Floyd records, his rumpled bed. And when he brought girls home, the sister studied what it took to be the girlfriend of the coolest guy ever. She noted their confidence, the way they carried themselves, their unintimidated access to the big brother, and she admired them.

When the brother got bigger, he started to wear clothes that fit, and flattered. Clothes not three times removed, and never patched in ways guaranteed to embarrass our mother. His wild hair tamed, he began to thrive in university, and showed a clear sense of direction for his future. His girlfriend was beautiful, and strong. She drove a little truck, and wore a big laugh, and wasn't intimidated by the brother. They loved each other and to the amazement of all, got married in a big church with the big white gown, proper table settings, matching shoes.

The sister, not so little any more, watched it all with great admiration. This powerful woman had found the brother's heart, had softened it. She loved him into matching clothes and proper grades. Not only that, but she had married him. She was very, very cool. On weekends, she would throw house parties with rice cakes and cured meats, little pickles, olives, and glasses of wine. She would throw her head back and laugh, invite the sister for sleepovers, and "silver cloud" cocktails.

But in time, the new sister-in-law noticed the utter lack of the little sister's cool factor. All the sisters were embarrassingly uncool. They laughed too easily at simple things, talked about diets way too much, never went golfing, and never even attempted sophistication, much less accomplish it.

The little sister was sad, but not surprised. It was just a matter of time, really. The brother had always known it, and had been gracious enough to let his astounding wife learn for herself- the sister was a small time hick. She thought slowly and with great naivety, didn't throw terribly interesting parties, valued small children and animals to mind-numbing excess, and hadn't a clue what to be when she grew up. It felt sad for the sister to know that in her entire life, she would likely never be very cool, and that people would notice, and yawn, and leave the olives and cured meat for a more deserving audience.

Life sped on, and the sister found her own way. She found friends who saw the her in it all and gently encouraged that her to come out and play! Stay a while! They liked her, knew her, enjoyed the slow thinking, the eccentricities, the penchant for creating out of scraps and discards. The sister had many friends, and many people she loved and felt found by. Sometimes she looked up, did a bit of an inventory, and felt enormously happy at how life had been so kind and how friends had been such gifts.

And then something strange began to happen. As the friend circles began to expand in goodness and quantity, they began to overlap. And the sister found herself in circles of friends that were actually the incredibly cool brother's friends. She suspected it would just be a matter of time before it would crumble. The brother always knew, so the friends would soon find out for themselves. It was unnerving for the sister, who had found comfort and confidence her own way. But now her circles were intercepting his, and fate was being tempted beyond its ability to accomodate, so she did her best to batton down the hatches, shutter the house, stay in where it was warm, and not risk the mockery.

But love is gentle, and love is kind. And love keeps no record of wrongs, real or perceived.

So one day a bit of rock fell out of the fortress she had built, and a hand came through. A hand that had shared incredibly in the life of cool brother, had walked alongside him, and had loved him. A friend of a friend who knew how clever, and witty, funny and popular was this brother. A friend of a friend who also knew the strong and beautiful wife and had walked alongside her, and him.

So it was frightening to take down any bit of that protective wall, but the sister remembered that she had found her own way and that walls never did let in enough light, and that without light, fear found ways to flourish. The sister knew that she wanted to live a life that dared looked fear in the eye and that she wanted to have faith in love, and in people, in spite of potential cost. So the sister took the chance. There was still a little girl in her- one who really craved acceptance and affirmation but suspected she wasn't worth real time. But there was also this grown up in there who knew that not everyone is meant to be friends. Not everyone "gets" everyone, and that is no indication whatsoever of a person's actual value.

They've been friends for a few years now. The sister no longer sees the brother, or the beautiful wife, but she knows them in new ways. Redemptive and lovely ways with a grace that covers the sadness of that little girl. This hadn't been possible before those circles overlapped, and before courage took timid charge over fear. This became possible when goodness was called to the forefront, when honesty met with kindness and compassion, when eyes saw and ears heard and no one was there to set an unattainable standard for cool.

They share tears together, these unlikely friends. Tears are not that cool- tears don't get invited to the best dance parties with the fancy umbrella drinks. Tears mean vulnerability, and vulnerability means exposing soft underbellies (of that animal within). Tears mean its okay to not be entirely together, that you are safe and valued and heard. Tears mean that you are enough.

Love has a way of surprising. Love has a way of igniting the beautiful impossible that we get the awesome privelege of bearing witness to. Like the sighting of a fat red robin on the coldest Manitoba winter day- love has a way of gifting us with these crazy sightings of goodness that make you snap your head up and say aloud- "Did you see that?!"

Love has a way of stitching together the broken into a greater whole of many beautiful pieces. So now the big brother and the little sister share pieces of each other in those that they both love. And somehow in that patchwork, something broken has become whole again. Somehow his way, and her way, though apparently worlds apart, got found and reunited in this most unusual and miraculous gift. Of friendship.

Love(ly).

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Friends

 

1friend

noun \ˈfrend\

: a person who you like and enjoy being with

: a person who helps or supports someone or something (such as a cause or charity)

Full Definition of FRIEND

1

a : one attached to another by affection or esteem

b : acquaintance

2

a : one that is not hostile

b : one that is of the same nation, party, or group

3

: one that favors or promotes something (as a charity)

4

: a favored companion

5

capitalized : a member of a Christian sect that stresses Inner Light, rejects sacraments and an ordained ministry, and opposes war —called also Quaker

friend·less adjective

friend·less·ness noun

be friends with

: to have a friendship or friendly relationship with

Related to FRIEND

Synonyms
alter ego, amigo, buddy, chum, compadre, comrade,confidant, confidante, crony, familiar, intimate, mate[chiefly British], musketeer, pal
Antonyms
enemy, foe
Synonyms
alter ego, amigo, buddy, chum, compadre, comrade,confidant, confidante, crony, familiar, intimate, mate[chiefly British], musketeer, pal
Antonyms
enemy, foe

In junior high, I decided it would be fun to be friends with everyone. Not limit myself to one or two people only. I looked at all my peers that I'd gone through school with since kindergarten and realized that we only had three years left where we'd all be together. And what a shame that I didn't know some of them better than I did. I was friends with the proper church kids, the "bad" kids, and I made a good effort with the weird kids. I laughed a bit louder, I learned things I didn't know before.

In high school, I managed to get in with a reasonably "cool" group of kids. Even though I was a country bumpkin who travelled in on the bus and only had one pair of jeans, no sexual experience, no television, not even pierced ears, I found friendship with these much more urbanized peers. Sure, they laughed at me without mercy for all that I didn't know. But they also loved me. They were my friends. Wendy was my go to. She gave me clothes, taught me about eye liner and boyfriends. We laughed together through operetta rehearsals, band concerts, choir practise. She told me about french kissing and boners.

As an interesting aside, high school was the intersection of all these very special friends in my life. My sister Carol was in grade twelve when I started grade ten. Joanne transferred to the same high school as I was in. Elaine's small town funnelled their grade nines to my school. Carol had her peers, Elaine had a group of her own, Joanne had become a loner, and I had my cool kids.

After we all graduated, my own life seems to spiral into continuously tiny, fragmented particles. My secret eating disorder became a larger than life monster. My sister moved away to Bible school. My friends were seriously committed to their boyfriend relationships. They knew what they were doing with their lives. They were enrolled in university, had purpose, and direction. They had a future.

I probably became a lousey friend at the time, what with my head spinning in circles, my body being unwell, my anxiety and depression hijacking who I'd thought myself to be.

Still I had many friends in the years that continued to stretch forward.

Barb. Rose S. Michael, and Robert. Kathy- who paid for two phone calls a month for me to phone home collect when I lived at Capernwray for a year. Donna, Les. Henry, Walter. Nancy, Caroline, Wanda. Brigitte, Edith, Iris.

I had friends, even though there were parts of me that no one could access. Even though I was slow and obsessive and depressed.

I'm older now. The monster has been tamed, the anxiety treated, the secret parts exposed to the fresh air of kindness and healing.

I still resonate with my junior high self.

It's fascinating to listen to all sorts of people. It's a privilege to be allowed into their life stories.

I've learned things about friendship along the way. Where does my friend end, and where do I begin? What do I disagree with and choose not to loudly berate?

Friendship. People. It's what I value the very most in my life thus far.

There have been dark underbellies to friendships over the years. Joanne divorced me in science class, grade seven, 1980. She said we couldn't be friends any more. I didn't know who I would sit with for lunch that day, or who I would walk with at recess. She never wanted to be friends again, ever, and it was because I wanted to expand my horizons. I wonder if she felt betrayed, and so betrayed me back.

Numerous friends ceased to exist for all intents and purposes when they began to spend all their time with potential partners, had mental breakdowns, or lived with some giant secrets that they simply could not disclose because of fear of misunderstanding. Some got absorbed into dysfunctional sexual relationships. Others abandoned me entirely when a mutual friend chose to "go AAAALLLLL the way" with my sometime boyfriend and things got weird and awkward in the group dynamic. Easier to ditch me and go with the program.

Sometimes, it has come down to some really painful decisions.

A terrible recognition that some people are not friends. No matter what they say.

Does this make me change my mind about being a friend in this world?

No. For it is my friends, my kind friends, who have shown me the value of real love in this world of pain and broken promises, betrayals, and insincerity. It is my friends that I turn to when I think I stink. When I'm terrified and tiny, when words have been thrown my way, when others accuse me of what's not at all true. It is my friends who show up with hot cheddar soup, dreadfully addictive caramel popcorn twists, sangria, and gifts of second hand fabric. It is my friends I meet in McDonald's parking lots halfway between your house and mine. Where we share daughters, coffee, hilarity, personal truths. It is my friends that I meet for breakfast to spill tears and explore thoughts that I never knew had words. Friends meet on gym floors, sharing wine and stories. Friends convene for birthdays, send e-mails of grief and sorrow, friends organize support for new moms, sick grandmas, broken marriages.

Friends are the ones who rejoice with those who rejoice, and are not threatened or jealous of your successes and surprises. Friends are honest, but they choose their words laden with kindness and care.

They don't say mean things and cover it up with; "You know I didn't really mean that".

They ask about your life, and listen with curiosity and intent.

They let you in.

Friends are respectful. Before they speak, they consider their audience.

They speak the truth. With love.

Friends know that it will be safe to say what is on their heart. That even if we don't see the world the same way, it's good and kind and caring to listen and to seek to understand one another. Friends sometimes see your truth before you do. They show you gently, with compassion. Sometimes they say nothing at all, because there's a time and there's a place and sometimes the best thing to do is wait.

 

Sometimes the "being nice" is the "hard work".

But at the end of the day, you have to ask yourself- Did I treat others fairly? With kindness? Can I go to sleep without worrying about wounds in my wake? We can't change other people, nor can we be responsible for how they treat us, but that's not our place.

Sometimes it comes down to knowing when to hold loosely, so that what doesn't belong can drift away. Remember and celebrate those people who lift you up. Be sure to tell them with words, they may not know.

And "Be more concerned with being interested than being interesting".

I still don't believe I was ever meant to have a best friend. You're not likely to get the half a heart locket from me this Christmas with your piece saying "best" and mine touting "friend".

But I no longer think of it as an obvious flaw, but more of a gift. An amazingly generous gift of many, many kind, insightful, generous, gentle, funny, creative, life-giving friends. Without whom I cannot imagine my life. My friends is how I measure my life.

Looks like tremendous wealth. The kind you can rarely lose.