I may have been a passable childhood companion, when all we thought about was how to be the best cowgirl, make the tastiest mud pie, or figure out who done it, with what weapon, and in what room. There was no comparing gifts and talents--only the joy of sharing an afternoon in companionable bliss. But by the time I reached middle school, hypercriticism and doubt had taken root. I was so busy trying to figure out who I was and how I fit in, I didn't spend much time thinking about anyone else's pain or challenges. This self-focused, self-preservation mode continued through the minefield of embarrassment bombs that was high school.
Then I graduated and moved on to college. I settled into a relationship with my soon-to-be husband while most of my friends were enjoying their freedom, experiencing both the thrills and anguish of the dating scene. We didn't have much in common during those years, and I'm sure I felt quite smug that I was ahead of the game, making wedding plans while my friends were still searching. We lost our connections, if not on the surface, certainly in the ways that matter.
The years passed and they caught up and we eventually began buying houses and having children. Now we had more in common, but my competitive nature resurfaced (in all fairness, I don't think I was alone in this). Who had the better home and was more expensive better? Or was bigger better? Was cleaner better? And what about the kids? Was one kid smarter than the other? More talented? Was my kid better because their kid was having problems?
Believe me, I am not proud of this.
And then a lot of living happened, which has a way of pounding humility into you, of showing you what's really important, of making you feel a deep connection and empathy with another person who's feeling what you've felt. The grief of losing of a parent, or the stunning fear that envelops you when nursing an ill child. The realization that regardless of how much planning you do or wish something to be, in the end it's all a crapshoot. And if it weren't for your friends lifting you up, you'd be laid out on the floor, alone.
I am filled with gratitude that my friends have stuck with me through my selfish ways, teaching me to be steadfast, to love them the way they have loved me. Now, when we get together, our armor has melted away. When we hug, our love flows unrestricted. When we smile, it conveys an understanding that can only be gained by a shared history.
They abide sweetly in me.