Our story prompt this week is "What does a true friend mean to you, who fits that description and why?" This assignment is a lot to chew on! It isn't as easy a topic as might appear at first blush, so I decided to start by looking up the word "friend" in the two-ton dictionary I keep near my desk. The definition I found (from 2nd edition of The Random House Dictionary of the English Language, Unabridged) reads, "a person attached to another by feelings of affection or personal regard." Over my lifetime I have been blessed to have superb friends, each and every one of whom I regard as a precious commodity, unique and irreplaceable. It would take a document the size of Gone with the Wind to give these people all the credit they deserve, but perhaps I can capture a few highlights of what I mean here.
The first time I remember being bowled over by the actions of a friend happened during my 7th grade year, when I happened to be home from school one day with a bad sore throat. My friend Jean called on the phone, asking "If you could have anything in the world, what would it be?" With no hesitation, I croaked, "A 7-Up and an ice cream sandwich." I hung up the phone at the end of our brief conversation without giving it a second thought. When the doorbell rang half and hour later I was completely astonished to find Jean standing on our front porch, a 7-Up in one hand and an ice cream sandwich in the other. What extraordinary kindness! Her action still amazes me these forty-odd years later.
Most women of my generation not only want to look like Barbie dolls but also feel we should posses the domestic skills of Martha Stewart and Jeeves the butler, rolled into one. Added to that, some of us are guilt-ridden perfectionists, always aware that the Housekeeping Police must be lurking just out of sight, ready to report to our peers any breach of performance in our assigned duties. I shamefacedly admit to internally bowing to the pressure of these groups. I have struggled my whole life with trying to be neat and orderly. Lest you blame my mother for my shoddy domestic education, allow me to assure you I grew up in a home that was always as clean and neat as a pin. Nobody ever made a mess in our house - except me, that is. It isn't that I like creating messes, you understand; I simply can't help doing it. I can't seem to fix the simplest of meals without dirtying every dish and utensil in my kitchen, for example. Likewise, if I'm working on a project in my office there are always untidy piles of papers covering every square inch of desktop and threatening to spread out from there like bacteria on a petri dish. (Nobody warned me writing legacy stories would be humiliating.) How I envy those women throughout history who have been so fortunate as to have household servants at their disposal! Cleopatra say, or Helen of Troy or Queen Esther or Lucretia Borgia, even Lady Catherine de Bourgh - I'm quite sure none of them ever had to deal with this issue, wouldn't you agree?
Well, to the point: the night I met my future husband my house was nothing short of a disaster zone. At the time, I was working a full-time evening shift job and going to school full-time during the day. Add to that a fairly good-sized dog who made occasional mistakes in the house and a rescued second-hand cat who only occasionally deigned to use her litter box and you can pretty much imagine the shape my house was in. Suddenly, Mr. Right appeared out of nowhere and suggested he drop by my house the next morning to pick me up to accompany him to church. Oi vey!!! Had it not been for my two best buddies Barb and Cathy, I'd probably be a spinster today. These dear ladies came over at eleven o'clock at night and the three of us cleaned furiously until two o'clock in the morning. Do the math: that's three women working three hours each equals nine hours of hard labor in the middle of the night. Friendship includes meeting the needs of others whether it is convenient or not. (We won't mention the fact the poor, unsuspecting suitor was tricked into believing I was an excellent housekeeper, if you don't mind. I doubt we'll have a future story prompt like "What is the sneakiest, most devious and low-down trick you ever played?")
About a year after this incident I almost died from a medical emergency and had to undergo a terribly gruesome surgery. (There! Those of you who are bona fide members of the Housekeeping Police can be pleased I got my just deserts.) My situation was critical - my surgeon later admitted to me that he did not expect me to pull through the ordeal. I was in agonizing pain as well as in mental distress, including kicking myself for the fact I had recently cancelled my medical insurance in an attempt to economize. (I can see a future story prompt here, can't you? "Name some stellar decisions you've made in your life.") Even if I pulled through, how could I endure such disfigurement (my abdomen looked like the battlefield upon which World War III had been fought and lost)? Where in the world would I ever get the money to pay the astronomical medical bills that were mounting higher and higher every day? Amongst the seven or eight tubes shoved here and there throughout my body by the thoughtful medical staff was a "Salem Sump" tube that went down my nose to my esophagus and from there to my stomach. It was the mother of all naso-gastric tubes, designed, I'm quite sure, by a fiendish sadomasochist somewhere in the lowest depths of hell. There really aren't words to describe the torture involved in getting up front and personal with one of these devices. Aside from the pain of smashed membranes, it made me feel like I was constantly being simultaneously choked and suffocated every second of the thirteen days it was in place. I was so miserable I wanted to give up and die.
Even though she was in an advanced stage of pregnancy that made sitting pure misery due to pronounced swelling of her feet and legs, my best friend Barb sat at my hospital bed hour after hour, day after day. She knew if she were to abandon her post I would give up my will to live. Friendship means self-sacrifice. I must also give credit to a whole group of people, some friends, some co-workers and a few strangers who belonged to the same Bible study group as myself, all of whom got together and gave me a huge envelope stuffed full of cash and checks amounting to a sizable chunk of my medical bills. Friends desire to help in times of crisis and step up to the plate when it comes to bearing each others' burdens.
My friend Marcia, although not in the easiest of circumstances herself, has blessed me over and over again with beautiful, practical gifts that always arrive around my birthday. Every residence in which I have lived during the years I've known her has been beautified by her touch - lilacs here, peonies there, raspberry bushes yonder. She arrived one day a couple of years ago carrying a little birch tree she'd found on sale at K-Mart. We planted it at the end of the driveway, where it has happily taken root and thrived, giving me a daily visual reminder of the blessings of having a generous-hearted friend.
During one unforgettably difficult and perilous season in my life, my friend Doris shared an analogy with me, explaining that our lives are like a beautiful tapestry being woven by God's own hands. We see only the underside, with all its knots and unsightly hanging threads, all of which obscure the lovely intricate pattern He's creating on the topside. She also reminded me that it was my time to play my role upon the cosmic stage; that the host of heaven was looking down to see just how I would respond to the difficult circumstances in which I found myself. My friend Doris imparted wisdom and encouragement at a time I desperately needed both. Friends speak Truth at critical junctures. They encourage the faint-hearted.
My friend Patty has stuck with me through thick and thin, as the saying goes. She is always ready and willing to lend a helping hand when I am overwhelmed. My many-talented friend Victoria has ministered to me in ways as varied as her abilities. My friend Susanne, an accountant, helped me sort through a spaghetti bowl of twisted forensic accounting that resulted when someone hacked into our bank account and helped themselves to a $2500 shopping spree one Fourth of July. (Have I mentioned my views on crime and punishment?) My friend Penny, a gifted neruomuscular therapist, helped me overcome a persistent tendency to overspend (whoops, more humiliation) by sharing one of her favorite mottoes: "If in doubt, do without." My friend Beth keeps me on an even keel be seeing the humor in trying circumstances - or "serpent-stances," as she calls them. My friend Wendy always lends a sympathetic ear to my problem-du-jour but ends these conversations with the wise advice, "Let's pray about it."
I could go on and on...and on and on...listing wonderful people who have blessed me with their priceless friendship. My dictionary got it right, but fell short of the whole truth. Real friends are more like angelic beings dressed up to look like ordinary mortals.
This was one of the most enjoyable stories posted to date. And there have been some real excellent legacy stories told. I absolutely loved it...every single well-written word of it. Thank you!!
How beautiful you have written about friendshp and your numerous friends. I appreciated reading your story and they marvelous way you crafted the words to express your feelings. You got it right! Keep up the writing.
Gee...it's almost a month since you left a comment about this story, and I just ran across it this minute. Thank you for your kind words. Will you be one of my friends on this site? Thanks.
I loved your friends story. And I have a real feeling you have been just as good a friend yourself. Your descriptive writing is tremendous. Way to go! Keep 'em coming!
Oh, Susan, you do have a way with words. You are indeed blessed with great friends and I'm sure they feel the same way about you.