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“The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing . . . not healing . . . not curing . . . that is a friend who cares” — Fr. Henri Nouwen
Truth be told, 2017 was not particularly kind to Chez She, its denizens, our family, and our friends. And so far, the opening salvos of 2018 do not indicate a trend in any sort of encouraging direction. I have had many better years, and few worse (my barometer for “worse” has a pretty low baseline to start with, trust me on that).
I’ve written about some of our trials and tribulations here and there over the past many months. This isn’t the time to enumerate them, and some of them may never be told on Ricochet. They are just too painful and too personal. Through it all, though, I’ve tried to keep (in the manner of my progenitors and countrymen) a stiff upper lip, and to make sure, as my late mother was fond of saying, that the lines on my face, and the tilt of my lips at the corners of my mouth, stays the right way up. I think I’ve been fairly successful in that endeavor, as I hope my friends would attest.
Which brings me to my friends.
I am grateful for my friends. I have many, of all sorts, from all walks of life, from a few different countries, and with any number of different personality traits. And when sorrows come “not single spies, but in battalions” (as the Bard saith), they’re quick to surround me with their love and support.
As the unique and wonderful individuals they are, they show this affection and friendship in many different ways. First, there are the “friends of wise counsel,” to whom I could listen for hours. They comfort me, and lift me up. Some of you are probably reading this. You know who you are.
There are the “busy” friends, who, at the first sign of trouble, start baking, stewing, roasting and otherwise making sure that, no matter how sideways things go in my life, I won’t have to lift a finger to feed myself and my loved ones, and that not a moment will be spent in the distracting, time-consuming, enjoyable, and comforting matter of occupying my misery-filled hours with some of the tasks that I love and which settle me down. “Don’t even think about cooking!” they shout, as they descend on the house bearing trays of pasta, lunch meats, salads and desserts. Their offerings are uniformly delicious. Don’t know where to put half the stuff they bring. Can’t possibly eat it all. Sigh. (In a modern twist, some of my non-cooking friends have taken to ordering delicacies online and having them delivered to my door. This is a lovely thought, and exciting, especially when I’m not expecting such largesse, and I’m out of the house when it arrives, and Xena and Levi, my two Great Pyrenees, find it before I do and have a block party for themselves in the driveway, scattering pies, pastries, muffins, crackers, cheese, salami and pepperoni (the bits they don’t consume, anyway) all over the place. At least cleaning up the mess gives me something to do, especially since there’s no need to cook . . .).
There are the “helpful” friends who can’t wait to tell me what to do. “The same thing [or something even worse] happened to me!” they immediately proclaim (actually, it’s not the same, and it’s never, ever, worse). And then they tell me what they did, and what I should do, and how I should think, and what would be best for me. I thank them for their good advice, meant so well, file it away to take out and look at when my day isn’t quite so fraught with peril and disaster (in case there’s a gem in there somewhere—quite often there is, usually it’s just a timing problem with the delivery), and forbear to remind them of another of my mother’s favorite dicta, that the best thing to do with good advice is to “pass it on.” After all, they’re living proof that’s true.
There are the “informative” friends (most of whom are online-only), who care for me by spending lashings of their own time reading, researching and looking things up on the Internet, and then bombarding me with hyperlinks, abstracts and articles that they think are pertinent to my situation, and which they think contain valuable information I need. I can’t possibly read them all. Sometimes, I think, I’ll outsource some of the work from my informative friends, and give it to my busy friends, and my helpful friends, and they can keep each other happy while I get on with sorting out the mess of my life. Then I remind myself that they love me, and that this is how they show it, and I am grateful again, for my friends.
Sooner or later, though, almost all my friends get to the nub of the matter. “You’ll be OK,” they say. “After all, you’re the strongest person I know. I don’t know anyone but you who could handle all these troubles at once.”
“How fortunate I am to be this strong, since I’m this miserable,” I can’t help thinking, as I struggle on. And I think of my friends. And how much I love them all.
Sooner or later, again, I will round up my friends, as I have many times before, and tell them that, much as I do love them, I need a bit of time, and a bit of space, and that I need to do things, and take care of things, for a while, on my own. And because they are my friends, and because they love me and I love them, they will understand.
But I have another friend. Someone with whom I’ve never had to have that conversation. This friend is an outlier, in every sense of the word.
This friend doesn’t fuss. This friend doesn’t bustle. This friend doesn’t help or inform. This friend doesn’t get in the way.
In times of trouble, this friend is prone to say only two things. The first is, “It’s OK, bawl your eyes out.” And the second is “I’m here.” Just like me, this friend doesn’t pretend to have a clue how things will turn out for me as I ricochet (see what I did there) from one catastrophe to another. But this friend’s mere presence in my life, and this friend’s gentle words, immediately make me feel better. This friend never tells me I’m the strongest person there is.
Fr. Henri Nouwen must have had a friend like this. And this friend must have been the subject of today’s “Quote of the Day.”
At the moment, I am, perhaps, more grateful for this friend than any other.