Thursday, April 25, 2013

Restoring a Garden

Marcel Proust wrote:

Let us be grateful to people who make us happy, they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.  

As my family shrank precipitously in the last 20 years I have hung on faithfully to the two remaining family members who seem to love and care for me, regardless of my cranky disposition, my coldness of spirit, and frequently my selfish personality.  Yes, I've made a few acquaintances along they way but I've lost more people that I thought I liked and could trust.  I found out these people could not be counted on to support me when times became rough or I became difficult and in almost every case they would not go out of their way to do a me a kindness. 

I was eventually left with only Hubby and his sister in Houston.  I have held on to two Texan acquaintances, though our contact is usually minimal, and they are actually friendships that existed because of my sister-in-law. Still, I always thought that if I asked, they would be willing to reach out to me (us) in a supportive way. 

I had two couples here in the Kansas City that I believed could be counted on for moral support and one of those couples has freely offered physical support as well.  For the last two years theses two generous people have been the lodge pole of our lives, though we actually only see them monthly or even less.

I don't have people I call on the phone to chat with and talk over the day's events.  The closest I come to the hours of time my mother hung on the phone with her friends and her mother (who lived right next door) is the time I spend on the Internet.  For the last 20 years or so my DogTalk friends have been my most constant companions.  I read some tid-bit of news from them every day and I share what my boys are doing or how Hubby is feeling with them weekly (or monthly, sometimes).  I have only met one of them face-to-face.  Though I know they care about me from across the miles, I also know they aren't going to jump on a plane and come pick up the pieces of my life should it smash around me.  They will pray for our healing but they don't send low sodium chicken soup to the hospital when that's all that Hubby can eat and they can't wipe my tears of fear when the doctors utter dire pronouncements. 

When I began to blog, I started reading some wonderful writers and interesting people leading fulfilling lives, at least on screen, and I added a few select people to my list of daily contacts.  Using Facebook added a few others -- and re-connected me with some people from my immediate past.  I chat with at least two of these good people every week and sometimes I think I've become more invested in their lives than I am in my own.  I know about their daughters and husbands and in-laws and when they are sick and when they feel down.  But, once again, our only contact is the written word -- and if my computer fails or the power goes out, our friendship is then lost. 

I honestly haven't been lonely.  But I missed having face-to-face contact, hugs, and out-loud laughs with real people.  I especially missed having a special "girlfriend" to share my life with. 

Then I retired and everybody said, "What will you do with yourself?" Even I knew that holing up in the house with just Hubby and the dogs was not going to be enough of a life for the long haul.

My first outreach was to a woman who had given me a very lovely gift when I retired.  I really didn't know her well but I did know she was an open person with a kind heart.  I suggested we do lunch.  She agreed.  While chatting about our professional life, she thought that other retired teachers would enjoy joining us for a meal and we settled on gathering once a month at some nice restaurant with an open invitation to other women who had worked at our school.  We are now a group of five, soon to be six, and I find I look forward to being with them out of all proportion to the time we actually spend together.  These ladies are not closer to me than my Internet friends but they exhibit a real, true, physical presence in my life.  I find that I really do need that. 

I mentored a young lady my last year teaching; we're very different people and she is so very young but we liked each other.  We were too busy to form a close bond but we did share similar experiences and some of the same students.   Waiting until school was ready to start again this past fall, I asked her to dinner.  She came; we talked the night away and not just about educational things.  Now we meet regularly to talk over school politics, favorite students, teaching techniques, new apartments, trying visits with family, and the best place in town to find a great burrito. 

From 1990 until 2006 I ran a small company doing communication's management for large firms that needed executive level presentations.  During that time I met a few really special people -- the kind you always wish you could hang on to, but often get lost in the business end of work.  One has made a special effort to keep me within range, even though she has moved around the country since our work relationship ended.  She emails, she calls for lunches or dinners when she's in town, she sends birthday cards, and has on occasion, even sent books she knew I'd love.  Another, a younger woman and I always said, "No matter whether we're in touch or not ours is a friendship that will last."  When I reached out to her after retirement, she opened her schedule and her heart and we are back, meeting regularly, sharing stories, comforting, supporting, advising, listening.  Two men from my business days have remained in my life, though more on the sidelines than as part of my inner circle.  Still we do see each other, we share meals, we email, we Facebook, and I know they are at least more than un-embodied voices on a wireless connection. 

When I left teaching almost a year ago now, I would have said I had only one friend I could count on. I hadn't been a friend to those people who had reached out to me so I certainly wasn't able to feel comfortable asking them for support.  Slowly, I'm rebuilding my life around people who have always been supportive and now I think I'm beginning to position myself to be able to be a friend in return. 

An adult friendship is so much more complicated than who you would sit next to on the bus or in the auditorium.  A true friend may forget your birthday but she won't shut you down when you call up and are afraid that you can't meet the physical requirements needed by a sick family member.  Instead, she offers to help you find resources that support you.  This is so much better than a birthday gift or card.  She knows when you are feeling helpless and down and it's her physical presence that can support you through the rough patches.  

Our true friendships are simply priceless.  When you reach out to be a friend, in return those people who have stayed by our side, no matter where we were in that relationship with them, will reach back to help you move into their path.  These are the friendships to deepen and make last.  These are the friends I'm making the building blocks of my life. 

1 comment:

Margaret said...

What a very rich post and so true! There can never be enough friends or enough variety of them. They are truly like a garden of flowers. I've leaned on my friends hard these past two years and most of them have been up to the task. A few have fallen away, but most are eager to help and be there. And we're never too old to make new friends!!