The good today is trust.
Being a grown up is difficult. Even at forty six, I cannot quite get over how different it is than when I was eight years old. Eight does not seem that long ago, eight feels touchable, close. Eight is the age I had a friend called "K" and she and I used to lie on the grass after it rained, and stare hard at the sky, looking for UFO's, which we had read came after a storm. Or we would imagine we did not have the lives we did, which were strained and a bit rough at times: we never spoke of these things, but we knew. We would listen to Cat Stevens on her brother's tape deck and pretend to live the lives of others: Amy Carter, Princess Lea, the daughter from The Planet of the Apes. Our conversations were possibilities. I could say anything to her, and she could say anything to me. Two sides of the same.
She was the most wonderful friend, and yet I cannot recall her name.
But when I think about friendship and what defines it, I think of her. She was always present, a listener, a jokester, an advice-giver. She knew things I did not, and somehow my world at eight was easier with her living inside of it.
Real friendships like the one with "K" were harder to come by as life moved forward. Young adulthood was strange and uneven, and I lacked the focus to maintain friendships for very long. People came, and they went, and it did not seem to make a big difference either way, life seemed long and effortless. Then middle age came rather abruptly with marriage, divorce, religious revelation and cancer in quick succession, and the main friend I had made in my life died rather sadly and at her own hand. Before she died, just days before, we met for lunch at our favorite spot.
"I have something to tell you.' she said. "You are real."
I did not feel real when she died two days later. I did not feel real when the phone rang and I held it as they told me and I knew when her name was said, one word, "Grace', that she was gone. Somehow I just knew. I did not feel real when I discovered, alongside most other people in her life, that she lived a double life, caught up in a series of untruths so enormous they swallowed her up, and she left. I did not know she was not real, and this cast me into a pit of doubt about not only who she was, but who I was.
For some years after that, I didn't pursue friendships, for I felt responsible for her death. If only I had known. If only I had paid attention more to the details. But eventually I realized that what someone wants to be unknown and hidden will remain that way until they are ready to show it. I realized her death was not my fault. I realized I could try to find a new friend.
Then I realized it was not that I blamed myself, but that I did not trust people anymore. Grace had been my best friend, but at the same time, she was someone I did not know. I was very cautious around people, and achingly slow to invite them in.
It took a long time. Years. There were failures, quite a few: people who I did not have enough in common with, or who lived far away, or were awful to travel with. There were successes, many, slowly budding interactions. It was slow and lonely for years.. Maybe too, I wasn't ready for the kinds of friendships that would be laid out for me. Perhaps I was preparing.
Recently, I was in need of guidance that only a group of good friends can give.. Not the kind that is brief or uneasy, but that instantly opens windows and lets the fresh air in. When this need arises, that is how you can tell who is a friend and who is real. The litmus test of friendship is always crisis, and crisis is the great sifter of people in a general way as well. Integrity to the left, noncommittal to the right.
These kinds of good, solid, friendships are hard to find. Yet I finally have them, and not just one, but many. Some of them are people I have only met this year, and others are people who I have known for a long time. Some I met online (yes, sometimes that works) and some I met in the jungle or washing laundry in buckets on a rooftop of an orphanage in India.
It took me a long time to make these kinds of friends, for I remembered Grace. How she wasn't real, but in-between places, caught. Only one way out. I was afraid that it would happen again, and so my demands for what makes a close friend were and remain high. So high very few have reached the bar.
And these people, they are my fire circle. They surround me, protect me, warm me, keep me, and love me. Yet they are spread around the globe, so far apart. I visualize sometimes that we will all be in the same room together. How noisy that room will be!
I am not an easy person to be friends with. I am intensely focused on my writing, have lofty standards and values, and expect the best from the people around me. I stay up too late at night worrying and wondering and need a friend to open the door of my cage every once in awhile. I don't lose my temper easily but I lose my way and get distracted by violence and difficulty in the world, and I often need a friend to brighten things a little. I get hurt and am triggered easily because of my childhood, and so must occasionally ask friends to nurture as a mother rather than a sister, father rather than a brother. I am on my own, family free by necessity, and my friends have taken their place. It is a hefty balance.
Why do my friends do so much for me? I am not sure. I am just grateful that I have arrived at place and moment where friendship is easy, and my circle is wide and full of powerful, gracious people with lives overflowing. I can't believe they let me inside those lives sometimes.
I want to thank them, especially after they have helped me recently to listen and not lose my focus with my writing, which is easy for me to do. Without them I would not have these pages of my book written that sit on my desk, or those essays finally done. Without them I would have no future plans, for they don't let me rest in dreamland, they make me speak my words aloud so they are alive and bouncing. Without them, my life would not be raw, in the moment, right now, real.
It is good to be surrounded by the sweet love of friends. I hope the circle keeps growing.