For a long time I’ve wanted to write a column about friendship, but every time I started I would panic and write about something else. I’ve never put so much pressure on myself. Beside me was a list of friends and a list of stories; all I had to do was write them up. But what if I remembered something differently from the way my friend remembered it? What if a friend I wrote into one story didn’t think she was supposed to be in that story? What if a friend read a story she wasn’t there for and got her feelings hurt? What if I left a friend out of a story she was supposed to be in because I’m ADHD-forgetful? What if I (heaven forbid) FORGOT to mention a friend at all?
My deadline loomed. I took the safe way out. I decided to write without names.
These stories are from my grown-up friendships: we have left behind the drama, jealousy and petty arguments of youth in favor of loyal, mature relationships that bring joy and laughter to every day.
To my friends: You know who you are, and I hope you enjoy finding yourselves in some of these stories. If you’re not sure whether you’re supposed to be in a story or not, the guideline is this: if you like the story, you were there. Have no fear of exposure, just breathe and read, because…no names! If you don’t find yourself here, remember that this is a column, not a book. The chapter list for my eventual book is 45 stories long – plenty of chances you’ll be in there. Stay alert.
Onward, to what grown-up friends do:
Friends cheer each other on
It was 2010, and I was so out of shape that I got winded carrying my precious two-year-old granddaughter Maddie across the room. Something had to give, and my inspiration came from friends. A friend who had never run a block in her life had just done Couch to 5K and finished her first race; two other friends often left our occasional Friday-after-work-wine gathering with plans to meet the next morning for a downtown run. This was way before FOMO was a word, but I felt I was missing out on a level of fellowship I never knew existed.
So I too, did Couch to 5K, finished the Tillman Clocktower Race with these three friends, added biking and swimming to the mix, and within a year had headed north to swim/bike/run the New York City Triathlon. While this fitness journey was the ultimate life-changing magic for me and while my coaches led the way, it was my friends who bore me aloft. They cheered for me, biked with me, ran with me and paddled kayaks alongside me on my Etowah river-swim practices. They sent me gifts, threw me a party, and graced my house with flowers, balloons, rose petals and the most heartfelt note I have ever received to celebrate my return.
When I crossed the finish line of the NYC Triathlon in August of 2011, eleven friends stood with my kids, cheering me on! They were friends from work, friends from jazz, friends from tennis, friends from life, and friends from other friends. They were old friends and new ones, and while they had made separate journeys to New York, they all weathered the Central Park heat that day, sporting bright green “Team NinaLove” t-shirts, just to cheer for me. It was a glass-dome-full-of-happy-tears moment, and I’m just glad that ONE of us thought to take a picture! Standing in the park or not, ALL of my friends were there with me in spirit. We cheer each other on.
Friends launch high adventures
How long has it been since you took a dare? And don’t get all hoity on me, acting like you’re too grown-up for this sort of thing; I know better.
A while back a friend “challenged” (dared) me to paddle my kayak over the Lock and Dam dam. This isn’t a very long story. Ahead of me, she glided through the troubled waters just fine; I, however, did not. My paddle caught in the dam rocks [sic], flipping my kayak upside down and flinging me into the current. I bounced over rocks and concrete about two inches below the surface. I remember thinking ‘so this is why kayakers wear a helmet’, but it was too late for a safety talk.
Remembering to put my feet first, I descended safely into the calm Coosa River below. Did I mention it was November? A nice young man in a canoe threw me a line and I held on like a fish too big to get in the boat while he paddled to the shore. I was SO grateful. Thank you, nice young man; I’ve always wondered who you were.
Notwithstanding the incident at the dam, this is the friend who introduced me to the river. We have paddled countless miles together. We have introduced many other friends to the rivers. High adventures have abounded (some of which will never see print), and I hope they always will.
Postscript: My friend proved her undying friendship that day by driving my wet shivering butt to the house.
Friends love on your whole family
While it can be fun to throw a party, it’s also a lot of work. And from the department of “When you did something nice for my child, it was better than doing it for me,” my friends threw a baby shower for my son and his expecting family. Friends planned it, friends came bearing gifts, friends decorated and dressed in lumberjack plaid, and friends made food that looked like little baby carriages and bundles of lumberjack wood. Words cannot express the joy you all brought to my family…thank you, every one, for loving us all!
Friends offer to help bury your cat
Okay this is not an absolute friend requirement, but the offer was so meaningful I can’t leave it out. It came from a work friend, the kind you keep professional and high-road; that’s the way we do it.
Have you ever heard “A friend will help you move, but a really good friend will help you move a body.”? (Stay with me, this will end up okay.)
Early one morning I had to let my oldest cat go. It was unexpected and it made me late for work, both because I was upset, and because I needed to dig his little grave out in my backyard kitty-memory-garden. I called my co-worker to say I would be late coming in, and he said the kindest, most thoughtful thing I think I’ve ever heard: “Can I come help you dig the grave?” That was what he said. Not “do you want me to come help?” which would be easy to shuck-off with a “naw, that’s a’ight, really…” This was a direct yes/no question and I knew it was sincere because this work-friend means what he says and says what he means. He does not patronize.
I was almost through digging so I didn’t take his offer, but I mean, how sweet was that?
A friend will help you move. A really good friend will help you move a body. An unbelievably thoughtful friend from work will offer to help you bury your cat.
Friends help you heal
When I had my second shoulder-fixing a while back, a precious bright-eyed morning-person friend took me to the surgery center at 5:30 am. Another friend brought me home and hung around for the afternoon, and a little flock of friends made plans to bring me food. They had this group text going on and somehow son Jedd was in it. After the seventeenth text about which night who was bringing me what to eat, my son snapped. Legend has it that Only Son politely conveyed the message: “Please take me out of this group text–I’m not an Old White Lady! In fact, that’s your new name: you’re the ‘OWLS’!” With our customary grown-up grace, we quietly revised OWLS to stand for “Old WISE Ladies” and well, here we are.
We OWLS are a loyal lot who love one another unconditionally. Ours are “grown-up” friendships that we enjoy, cherish, and nurture every day.
The Foundations of OWL friendships are:
Politics, not ever (OWLS have different stripes and value friendship over conflict)
“How do I get to be an OWL?” I hear you asking. If you have friendships like those above, you’re halfway there. Here are the rest of the guidelines:
You may be an OWL if:
Your children are grown and out of the house (if you never had children, you met this milestone 25 years ago)
Well, if they are at least grown…
You have positive energy and thrive in the fun and freedom of grown-up life
Your friendships are well described by the Foundations above.
And you qualify for OWL Exemplar if:
Somebody young enough to be your grandchild has said, “When I grow up, I want to be you!”
That’s it. No dues, no applications. No gender bias, either; OWLship is open to all who qualify. Grab your friends, agree to the Foundations and form a parliament of your own!
So, friends, these are the stories for today. I hope I told them pretty close to how you remember they happened, but if I didn’t, well, you know me…and I know you’ll be honest.
I also want to say this: if reading this saddens you because you’ve lost a friend or some have moved away, please do not despair. I have always found my friends by getting involved in things. You never know where you’ll find a friend. If you can, volunteer: you’ll find like-minded people there. Or go to one of the many free classes/seminars/movies/concerts in the area. If you can’t get out, ask a neighbor or caregiver if they’ll be your friend. It’s not a difficult ask, because… who’s going to say no to friendship?