What a joy true friendship is. I’m talking about the kind of friendship that is born in honest and open sharing from the soul, from the gut, from the heart, and from the mind. Friendship that allows two people to live hundreds of miles apart from each other and yet always feel very closely connected.
I am presently visiting with one of those friends. We last saw each other two years ago when she and her daughter passed through town and spent the night. Before that, we last saw each other when my daughter and I passed through town and spent a night with her back in June of 2004. Our previous connection had been in Naples, Italy where we met and developed our friendship over a period of a couple of years.
When we reconnect it is as though we have not been apart. We seamlessly pick up the loose ends of our relationship as though we had met for coffee just last week. There is a comfort and a power in this kind of friendship. There is no need to waste time in explanations. We look into each other’s eyes and we know where we’re at.
As we wrap our arms around each other in those first few moments of greeting, it’s like taking a warm, well-worn comforter off the back of the couch and pulling it snugly around our shoulders. Or perhaps like pulling that favorite old sweater out and pulling it on. It’s like sitting down with a cup of hot tea or coffee in front of a welcoming fire.
In friendships such as this we find strength and comfort to help us through those hard trials in life. We know that we can surrender and lean in without being judged or criticized. We can laugh together, cry together, pray together, and sit in silence together respecting each other’s presence.
I was truly not sure what prompted me to make this visit at this particular time. I arrived here late on Sunday afternoon after a seven hour drive. By bedtime, around eleven o’clock, we had talked ourselves tired! We had shared the rich and intimate details of “where we were at” as well as a wonderful home-cooked meal. The years of ups and downs, of joys and sorrows, of hopes and dreams – achieved and dashed – lay on the coffee table between us and spilled out across the carpet. We could see and feel the growth that had come to each of us through those experiences.
Monday dawned bright with sunshine and sparkling blue skies. I came downstairs full of sleep and found a note on the counter and coffee ready to go:-). She had gone to work for a few hours but was home by early afternoon. She found me sprawled on the deck of the pool soaking up some summer rays. She laughed delightedly at the picture I presented, content that I was so enjoying her beautiful home.
We spent the afternoon talking some more, getting into those kinds of details and clarifications that only women seem capable of seeking in their deep friendships. She is dealing with marital issues and so it is good to be there for her, to just listen and love her. It was an afternoon of joy and laughter and, yes, a few tears. We jumped in the pool a couple of times to refresh and restore not only our bodies but also our spirits.
Another wonderful meal later and still more talking. It’s as though we know we have this short time together and we need to get as much heart-to-heart in as we can. I introduced her to my web page and left her to read as I spent some time checking through her portfolio. She is an amazing interior decorator and creates incredible artistic finishes, including original murals, faux finishes, and awesome wall and cabinet textures in peoples’ homes.
And then the bomb drops. An email that shatters her heart. And in one instant I understand why I am there at this given time in her life. I can be sounding board and shoulder to cry on. I can offer support and some calming objectivity in the midst of chronic heartache. I can be the arms of God holding her as she cries. I can move in close and also give her space. I am friend.
I met Georgina at night school. It was one of those courses being offered to people who had been away from school and study for some time and were considering going back to college. She was a few years younger than me and not sure of her path in life. I’d been “lost” for so many years I’m not sure I’d have recognized my path if I saw it! But I was trying; I mean I was at night school, no?
I’m not exactly sure how we came to be friends. There were about twenty five of us in class and we were often paired up or asked to do a project in small groups, so perhaps that was how we first came together. I do remember however that she was pretty focused in her studies and so was I. Maybe that was the first attraction.
One evening in Social Studies the topic of religion came up and I found out that Georgina was Jewish – orthodox. She shared with the class how important her faith was to her and described some of the basic beliefs of the Jewish faith. In talking she mentioned the Sabbath and how she observed it each week, and I was intrigued.
A few weeks later I was having a very stressful time. One of my teenage sons was acting up and causing difficulties at home. I was a divorced single mother and life was never too easy at the best of times. My boss, who was Jewish, noticed that I wasn’t my usual “Miss Sunshine” (my nickname at work), and jokingly said, “what you need is a Sabbath”. A bell went off in my head and I called Georgina immediately.
I arranged for the boys to go straight from school on Friday to my mother’s. With my weekender packed I left work early as I had to be at Georgina’s before sunset. My boss had happily given me a couple of hours off and sent me on my way with a Jewish blessing.
Georgina greeted me and quickly explained the “mechanics” of the weekend. All the lights were on timers. Food for the next twenty four hours was already prepared and kept warm on low settings on the stove. No work of any description was to be undertaken until sunset the next day. The telephone would not be answered, neither radio nor television would be turned on, no money would be handled. This was a time dedicated to the Lord through total relaxation and worship.
I asked about the worship. Georgina led me immediately into the “opening ceremonies”, breaking the sweet bread and sharing it with me along with the sweet wine. (She knew I did not drink alcohol and so she had provided me with special sweet, non alcoholic grape juice.) There were ritual prayers said and Sabbath was officially begun. She said that we would attend synagogue in the morning.
The next day, after breakfast, we walked to synagogue. We could not take the bus because of the “no money” rule, but it was a pleasant day and she lived in a a really lovely neighborhood, so it was very enjoyable. Once arrived, we entered and I couldn’t help but notice that the men went in one door and the women another. I followed Georgina along with the other women.
Nothing could have prepared me for the violent internal reaction that I had when we entered the inner part of the synagogue. It didn’t take me long to realize that the women were on a slightly upper level from the men and that we were barricaded, separated off from them by wrought iron bars.
As the service began it became quickly obvious that the men did everything and the women were completely excluded from any active participation. I was furious. How dare they do this! Who did they think they were? I could feel steam coming out of my ears. And how could my “feminist” friend Georgina put up with this?
In a brief moment of sanity it occurred to me that I had come here to worship God. I took some slow deep breathes and snuck a look at Georgina. She was peaceful and calm, immersed in the ritual, saying the prayers. Then I had the grace to surrender as I realized that this was not MY religion, not My belief system. I was just along for the ride and the experience and I could still pray to the God of my understanding in the same way as I did when I went to my church.
After the service there was fellowship. Everyone was welcoming and kind. The Rabbi was warm and shared his pleasure that I, a Roman Catholic, had wanted to share in my friend’s faith form. He said that was surely a sign of a good friendship. I had the grace to blush internally as I remembered my earlier “moment of madness”.
Georgina and I left after a while and went for a stroll in the park. I couldn’t remember the last time I had walked in a park – perhaps when my boys were still very small. Arriving home we had lunch which was all prepared and the dishes were left on the side until after sunset. The afternoon was so calm and tranquil. We chatted, we read, we relaxed and were content. I was full of an inner peace as never before.
When sunset came around, we closed Sabbath with another set of prayers. Then I helped Georgina clear up and reluctantly packed my over nighter ready to go home. The Sabbath had been a veritable oasis for me, a place, a time, for refreshment and restoration. I spent a few more wonderful Sabbaths with Georgina before leaving the UK. To this day I use the expression “I need a Sabbath” when I recognize the need to pull back from the world and restore and refresh my spirit.