I don’t obsess about aging, but I do wonder how many years are left before I hit my expiration date, which triggers thoughts about how I want to spend those years. Milestone birthdays do that to you. My hope was to morph into one of those wild and wacky older women featured on greeting cards. You know the ones—blithe, self-possessed, laughing and kicking-up their heels arm-in-arm with a group of equally, age-defiant, female friends. Sadly, over the past few years, that image shattered like stress cracks in auto glass as, one by one, my longtime friends all moved away. The exodus started out small, and then spread like a starburst as the layers of glass split, leaving me kicking up my heels alone, via emails, Facebook, or text messages.
It’s said that ‘real’ friends go for months without seeing or talking to each other, and then pick up where they left off. I’m not a big believer in that line of thinking. For me it’s the day-to-day stuff that sustains intimate relationships. When friends are out of touch for too long, catching-up is overwhelming, so we condense, skimming over details and leaving out major chunks of the saga of our lives. We fall out of sync, and close friendships drift into the Christmas-card exchange category, and fall out of the sharing-over-coffee, intimate friend category. Maintaining close friendships takes effort and usually proximity. Close friends stay… well…close.
Which brings me to why I’ve been MIA, with no blog posts, for the past two weeks. My best friend is here, visiting from England. Her airline ticket was a birthday gift from my husband. How great is that? To make things even better, her birthday falls a few days after mine.
Background: Jo and I met when we were puppies, in our early thirties, and bonded like cement. She moved home to England in 2001 to take care of her ailing, elderly mother. For eighteen years we’ve lived a continent and an ocean apart, but distance hasn’t dampen our friendship. We chat on the phone, email, and catch-up in person during Jo’s almost annual trips to Arizona.
Everything I’ve learned about how to be a good friend I’ve learned from Jo. She’s a big-picture person, in it for the long haul. Jo can brush things off, balancing a friend’s bad day or miss-speak against the broader picture of their true nature. Since I am prone to irritation and don’t hide it well, I truly need and appreciate a friend who will both cut me slack and slap me upside the head when I need it. She makes me lighten up and laugh—not always an easy task. Jo checks in often, remembers birthdays, prioritizes get-togethers, and celebrates her friends’ successes with honest pleasure. Now, I’m not as good as Jo at any of this. She sets the friendship bar pretty high, but I try my best to follow her example.
Jo has a great generosity of spirit. Before she moved back to England in 2001, she gave her group of girlfriends her “buddy list”, with each person’s contact information. We all knew each other on some level, but our real connection to each other was Jo. The string attached was that we were all to get together often enough to become friends ourselves. And so we did, to the benefit of each one of us, as different as we all are. Now when Jo visits, getting the group together is something we all look forward to. We’ve had some great times.
Six of us in Jo’s circle have birthdays within days of each other (all Aquarians.) You can guess what this means—a major excuse for a party. This visit we pulled five of the six together (and three spouses) for an uproarious, celebratory dinner at a local, cowboy steakhouse. The wine and margaritas were flowing, and laughter was abundant. I’ll insert a picture taken at the beginning of the evening. As the dinner progressed, the rest of pictures are a blur of animation with ladies talking across, around, and at each other, sharing cell phone pictures and toasting everything we could think of.
Wacky, wild, crazy ladies! Thanks to Jo, there might be potential for some heel-kicking-up in my old age after all.
IMAGES: Top left: Just before Jo moved home to London. Top right: As requested, group outing - we made her a poster of this picture. Center bottom: Recent group dinner celebrating five Aquarian birthdays (top left, a friend of Jo's and now ours who moved to AZ from Portland.)