I live on an island. I think I’ve mentioned this before. Our kids are fifth-generation islanders–those special, moss-laden little barnacled beings that hang out in the deep dark mud in the middle of sports season and are semi-convinced it’s fun until they get home and have to thaw their fingers in a shower, bundle in fleece, and eat burning hot soup to feel alive again.
(It’s not until they’re older that they’ll realize the benefits of this hardy upbringing. It’ll be one moment in time when they hear the voice of their childhood: A stalwart old grumpy PNW voice whispering in their heads saying things like, What, what do you mean it’s raining and cold? So what? Get out there and live!)
‘Tis true, in exchange for the mud and the rain, we get to live in the center of paradise, the rainy-cloud-persimmon paradise of our dreams, where sunrises and sunsets take our breath away every time we look outside and see God or whatever we envision the divine to be out there looking back at us.
We live a ferry ride away from Seattle, “the mainland” for us. If something goes wrong with one of our kids, it falls on the island parent to solve it. That’s always been me. That was our parental pact. When we moved here our youngest was two years old and I said, “I’m not going to be OK with both of us working in Seattle when our kids are young, so if we move to any island one of us has to be available to the kids, not hours away. That is a solid requirement. It can be either of us, but it can’t be both of us away every day.” It’s not that Brian didn’t feel that way, too; I just expressed it the most vehemently, probably because I understood what it really means to be a ferry ride away from the other side. I meant this for the impossible, the wouldn’t-ever-happen of the most awful emergencies imaginable: head contusions and severe injuries and no parent anywhere to rescue our child. Understand as I say this that I would WORK ANYWHERE DOING NEARLY ANYTHING to make ends meet. But so far we have been fine on a single income and I’m the one at home anchoring the kids’ days here.
And also when we moved here I didn’t have any friends yet and I forgot THE POWER OF FRIENDS FOR ANYTHING LIFE SERVES UP.
I’m married to a Southern California boy. He’s from what I would call way south, super-sunny south--a San Diego water polo player who, despite his sunny background, totally gets the whole gritty Pacific Northwest thing that keeps us rolling through the winter–the ten essentials of any hiking adventure, the importance of green and blue (it’s the water and the trees), the importance of good coffee and excellent tea (really, it is a deal-with-SEVERE-darkness-life thing, not just a Starbucks marketing thing), and the importance of friends. I am old enough to know that his goodness has nothing to do with where he grew up, but has a direct correlation with a deep, moral self and an upbringing that involved amazing parents and a parent community who let him roam and run and taught him how to be a great, integral, good person no matter what.
“Friends” is a far more complicated term than I ever realized, but from my uber-wise-40-year-old perch (ha!), I can tell you in no uncertain terms that true friends are hard to find. Great friends are everywhere. But real friends have to go through the wringer to arrive at the other side and arrive at “true friends.” They are the ones that survive the incredibly difficult, the impossible, and the destructive, and just hang on in the middle of the storm like it’s no problem at all, like they’d do it again tomorrow if the storm hit and they nearly drowned to save you, and they’d say, “it’s no problem,” simply because they know you well enough to know that you’d feel horrified if they allowed you to see how much they’re actually putting on the line to help you. They hang on in the middle of the storm and act as if it’s just life.
They are treasures.
I was on a field trip to Olympia today with my fourth grader. I almost didn’t go because I thought I was coming down with the flu last night, but then I followed the advice of every parent I know: I took the hottest shower I could stand and went to bed early bundled in socks and pajamas. I slept like a baby through a torrential thunder storm and my husband’s allergic itch attack (which I only learned about when he reported it to me this morning), and went on this field trip with a cup of coffee and the last-minute bag of lunch Brian packed when we all agreed I was healthy enough to go.
And I wouldn’t have traded today for anything. I got to watch my 10-year-old daughter gather with her classmates and look at historic monuments in our small state, and learn about the Great Depression, and find stories in pieces of marble walls, and learn about how laws are made–and how their impact is far-reaching. I watched a moment in time: fourth graders on the precipice of the rest of their lives and my daughter looking at a series of possible lives ahead of her.
During our field trip I got a call from the school nurse. It was the first time that I was on a field trip several hours from home and my husband was at work in Seattle, and one of our kids was getting sick. I asked the nurse all the usual questions–does he have a fever? What kind of stomach ache is it? Do you think he can tough it out until I get back? And when the nurse said she wasn’t sure, but he’d been in a couple of times already that morning, I said, “Well, I can call my friend and see if she’s available.”
Understand that there isn’t much that can be explained beyond this: I called my friend and she just picked up the phone. I didn’t need to leave a voice mail. When I asked her if she could get Brooks at school, she said, “Sure, I can pick him up right now.” I even said, “You know, asking you to pick up my stomach-achey son is like asking you to throw yourself across the train tracks and wait for the storm to hit.” Because the stomach flu doesn’t stop when someone asks it to. It rips through families and just kinda does its thing. And she has three kids. And my God. Right? And she said, “No, it’s no problem.”
“No, it’s no problem.” Do you know what kind of magic and music that is to people’s ears? For me it was just during a worried moment trying to figure out how to help my little boy: Would he need to return to the classroom to throw up in the middle of a garbage can in class, or huddle on a little couch in the nurse’s room for several hours until I or Brian could retrieve him?
And NO THAT WOULD NOT BE THE WORST THING IN THE WORLD. But it wouldn’t be all that grand either. Right? Haven’t we all as adults hung out in the middle of work and not wanted to throw up in our hands? It’s not that fun. It’s much nicer when someone says, “It’s OK. You can go home now and sweat fever buckets on the couch in front of cartoons.”
I’ve dealt with a few of these smaller but nonetheless significant moments, and also with life moments that are much more impossible and much more painful and terrible, and this dear friend and other dear friends have shown up to say “No, it’s no problem.” These people hold everything up just by being there and being willing to show up for the tough poop.
And I’d do it for them in a flash. Anytime. Anything.
I saw friendship today much like one might when they glimpse a billion-dollar-treasure at the back of a cave: the fourth-grade-boy-and-girlfriends made of impossibly good stuff huddled around together in the rain and amongst paper bag lunches in the State Capitol, holding each other inside a bundle of growing-up-ness. The parents and teachers who made sure the girl who felt sick on the bus was given mints and gum and a plastic bag and fresh air and a snuggle and distraction. The mom friends who sat for an hour and a half on a bus ride with 30 kids sharing stories of watching our hearts wander around outside of us. The parent friends who were real and self-depricating and delightful. The mom who drove at a moment’s notice to pick up my sick seven-year-old boy and bundle him on a couch in front of cartoons and tell him all would be just fine.
So here’s to friends. To the good and loving and real everywhere, who don’t leave anyone outside in the cold, and who make the world easier and even quite beautiful.