I remember a very raw, New England day raging outside my fourth grade classroom and the clink clanking of the warm radiator inside as Sister Christina stood in front of our class and asked us to hold one of our hands up and count our fingers. Duh. Five. Or four fingers and a thumb. Whatever. She looked out over our extended hands and said, “Now, children, if you get to the end of your life and you have as many fingers on your one hand as true friends in your life you can count yourself blessed and very, very lucky.” Huh. Ha! Pshaw! I did a little chuckle-eye-roll thing and scoffed at this nonsense and then began making a mental tally of the hoards of friends I had. Fingers and toes to infinity! I mean come on… max five friends? Puh-leeeeze.
Years have passed. Eons. And, shocker: all of those friends to infinity from back in the day I have not seen or spoken to in decades or have only recently become reacquainted with
electronically - thank you, Mark Zuckerberg! Anyway, over the years, I have thought about Sister Christina and that comforting radiator and her statement about true friendship often, especially at times when I've felt great vulnerability. I call it Tuesday. I kid! I kid! Seriously, though, I imagine most other folks go through periods of feeling like I do - "I have tons of friends and am a tremendous human being and am deserving of undivided attention and accolades and hot fudge sundaes with two cherries on top!" As well as those moments when I feel gutted, gray and Gollum-esque and like there are only haters walking planet Earth and every last one of them has a point. So, you know, black and white, clear cut, all or nothing type shit. But, it ain’t the whole story. It never has been and it never will be. I get it. Most of the time I get it. Friendship, like life, is what you make it and you get out what you put in. And most importantly - it ain't perfect.
A couple of years later when I was in middle school my mother went back to school (brava!) and some days my brother, sister and I would have to wait at school a little longer until we were picked up. The school emptied and became eerily quiet and we were ushered over to the super scary, top-secret, taboo, what-goes-on-in-there? convent on the school grounds where the few remaining nuns who taught still lived. I remember the first day we had to wait in there. The school principal, Sister Agnes sat us in the shockingly homey living room and gave us all Twinkies. Twinkies! Well, good Lord, you could have knocked me over with a feather! At school Sister Agnes was so strict and never smiled and seemed delighted to find me in my usual spot of penance, standing under the statue of Our Mother looking contrite. Sister Agnes and I had a real ‘love affair’ as every single morning she pulled me out of line to check that I wasn’t wearing mascara and my fingernails weren’t painted as my rebellious spirit struggled to find a cause. But here she was plying us with junk food in a cozy room that was NOT decorated with scary Jesus artwork and affectionately asking about our day. Whoa! It was a shock! The curtain was pulled back and I was surprised at what I saw. A home! Here, behind these doors were women. And they were chillaxin’. They removed their habits, essentially letting their shorn gray hair down and gone was the stern, stop-chatting-and-do-your-work-Miss-McNabb look in their eye that I’d come to know over the years and it was replaced by a gleam, a glimmer, a bunch of gals keeping it real, hanging out, talking about their day together. I’ll never forget looking down the hallway and into their common room and catching a glimpse of Sister Josephine, the meanest woman on planet Earth, smiling and lo’ - giggling! Sister Christina was sitting next to her. I couldn’t make out what they were talking about, but it was a barn buster 'cause those sisters were dying laughing. Howling like the friends they were. Laughing like the friends Sister Christina was talking about when she held out her bony hand to us in class a few years before.
So... my ride isn't over yet. I'm not done. I'm not done living and making friends and being a friend. And, I think I can add to Sister Christina's statement, afterall I know a few things that she didn’t or couldn’t have known and that’s that I’ve given birth to three beautiful friends and was lucky enough to find and marry their father, my best friend.
I do know that there is an ebb and flow to life, to friendship. There are layers, constraints and thusly there are those friends that I hold dear and see all the time and then some that are present exactly when I need them to be and not present when I don’t and still some more that are always in my heart though I’ll never (or may never) see them again.
More importantly I know what is perhaps the underlying statement of those wise words I heard all those years ago in fourth grade and that is - friendship isn’t just about having friends but about being a friend. It's something I am really good at sometimes and could use some work at other times - perfection always being the unreachable goal...
On my ride back to my house just now I was idling at a light and thinking about all of this and the Beatles song “In My Life” came on the radio. I can't help but applaud the synchronicity of its timing as it perfectly sums up the sentiment of how I feel about all those friends who have been present in my life - some who remain in it and the some who no longer are, and that is, “In my life, I’ve loved them all.” And I'm grateful beyond words that it is way more than one handful.