"When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. 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 curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares."
I believe that friends come and go and that each one enriches our lives for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. I came across this quote earlier and immediately thought about one of my "lifers". While I have many friends, she's the one who has been a constant in my life for over two decades, and when I think back to the times when I've felt powerless, I realize that she has always been present in those moments.
We met in college as sorority pledges. We clicked instantly and soon realized we had a class in common. We spent the semester hanging out together both on and off campus, completing sociology assignments and projects collectively... and finding out that we had very similar interests, taste in music and clothes, ideas and goals. Eventually we became roommates in our junior and senior years of college as well as after graduation.
When I was twenty-one I watched my father die a slow and painful death. Many days, K came with me to visit him so I didn't have to go alone. She never really knew my dad prior to that time and he was often unable to speak, but she would engage him and elicit his smile every single time. She would take stock of the fridge and pantry and slip out to the grocery store for us. She made tea... lots and lots of tea. On the night he died, she was the friend I called at 3:00 in the morning to tell. She cried with me on the phone. She didn't say much of anything because there was nothing to be said... but she was there, present in my powerlessness. She also made phone calls to several family friends to tell them the news and about the funeral arrangements. Years later she told me that was one of the hardest things she ever had to do, but she did it anyway.
We've held each other's hands and hearts through deaths of family members, friends, and even dreams. We've seen each other through family crisis, childbirth, medical emergencies and scary illnesses. There have been times when we've waited on news together, nervously sipping tea, listening to the deafening silence until the phone rings. We've been each other's biggest cheerleaders for races, contests, job hunts, parenting, and so much more. We've bent our ears countless times when the conversation opener is "get this" or "I don't know what to do". I simply can't imagine K not being my go to girl. She is the godmother of my first born and, in my will, is named the legal guradian of my children. I suppose that would render her present in the ultimate moment of powerlessness.
Of course there are endless happy memories ranging from beer slides to vacations to girls' nights out and parties. In the summertime we sit by her pool and drink margaritas while reading trashy magazines. We can go for hours without saying a word to each other yet walk away feeling as though it was the best day ever simply because we had the opportunity to just be.
After we graduated from college, K lived in many different cities. In fact, for most of our friendship, we've lived apart, which is proof positive that physical presence is not the most important part of true friendship. That said, you can imagine how overwhelmingly happy we were when, three years ago, not so coincidentally, she moved a town away from me.
The other day I had to tell K about my most recent serious medical struggle at a time when she, herself, is facing a severe back problem as well as some family issues. It was the first time I can ever remember both of us being the walking wounded at the same time and that neither one of us could do the other a damn bit of tangible good to help ease our situations. The thing is, though, that it is an excellent reminder that it's really not the physical acts of kindness that define friendship. If she still lived elsewhere, I'd still call her first each day with my health update and to seek hers. I'd still text her the thoughts that really go through my head instead of the cleaned up and coherent ones I save for the general public. I'd still be able to laugh at us sharing our stories of our recent "break-ups" with our respective doctors and simultaneously yelling into the phone "you can't ever go back!", a mantra we had in college with regard to dumping boyfriends.
So it seems that K and I are both powerless in our situations now and powerless to physically help one another through with the usual gifts of meals or childcare or wine and chocolate. However, the love and support we extend to each other on a daily basis magnifies a thousand fold in times like this. I can't give her advice or solutions or a cure, nor can she give those things to me... but I can be present for her, as she is me, and, at the end of the day, that's really what the power of friendship is about.
That, and sharing a good cup of tea.