I spent the morning cleaning Aisle 6 (the pet food/cleaning supplies/greeting card aisle) of Fitch’s IGA in this tiny town. If I hadn’t done that, my thoughts on friendship would have poured out differently. I would have surely written about the friend I met when she was seventeen, whose phone number is ingrained so deeply that I’ve dialed it with ease from half a dozen countries, whose time is so precious that I pick up a call no matter what, no matter where, whose voice is so familiar it feels like home again. She called yesterday and I picked up despite crying children and a hungry husband and an imminent nap time. Because it was Ashley. My second son bears a part of her name. Her friendship is wrapped up in and through my life such that no amount of teasing could unweave that thread without leaving me in tatters.
But I did spend the morning cleaning the local grocery store. And these thoughts of friendship blossomed and expanded past the one to the many. To the new friend—my partner in cleaning, coaching me as I fumble to re-position the tall and ridiculously clattery Glade bottles of air freshener. This new friend who receives my ESL teacher input about her pronunciation as we share ideas of all that we are called to do on this planet. This new friend who makes my sons smile at lunch across the table at an institutional cafeteria.
The friend who is in Central Asia this week, experiencing all I’ve ever hoped for her to experience. The friend I’ve lost touch with, who taught me how to be relaxed and real and honest when someone tells you they’ve just signed themselves out of the mental hospital. The friend whose passport picture remains on my fridge, whose baby is named after me, who will never forget me–the oddball foreigner whom she nurtured into grown-up life in the Horn of Africa–the talking, the cooking, the cleaning, the water-jug filling–and I will never forget her. The friend I grew up with, the artist who was going to join the Peace Corps while I went to med school who graduated from Brown with her medical degree while I spent the better part of the last decade in humanitarian work in Africa.
These women who shaped me. These women have labored with me and helped me give birth to new sides of myself I didn’t even know would come. These friends I thought would be there forever and aren’t; the friend I thought was not for me who has been here forever now. Gifts through and through. Through pain and tears and laughter, I receive these gifts.