You may recognize the first lines of “The Way of the World” by poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox: Laugh, and the world laughs with you; Weep, and you weep alone. It’s true that it’s easy to have friends around you when things are going well; most people can handle the good days.
I’ve been blessed with a large, close family. Regardless of the moments we’ve gotten angry or frustrated with each other, when it comes right down to it, we are there for each other. And we’ve had times over the years when that’s been proven. Times when one or another of us has dropped everything and gone to be with the other. Not every family is that way. I’m lucky mine is.
But I’m also lucky to have friends I feel the same way about, especially since my family is so scattered. Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve had numerous people extend their condolences over the loss of my father. I’ve gotten cards from unexpected people. Hugs from colleagues. A plant delivered to my house. But what’s touched me most is that I’ve also had several close friends who checked in with me daily, sometimes several times a day. Grief manifests itself in strange ways. I’m not usually an outwardly emotional person. I don’t like to cry in public. I don’t like to draw attention to myself. I’m much more comfortable being the one other people can lean on. But I’ve found myself close to tears periodically with random triggers. A song, a card, a memory. While I feel like I’m doing ok, I know that the grieving process isn’t over. Death has a way of making you reflect not just on the life of the person lost, but on your own life. For me, it’s reminded me of the brevity of our days and reinforced my desire to live a meaningful life. I’m sure this reflection is part of the process, but it also adds another emotional layer to an already stressful event. And I know that for other people, it’s not always easy to know what to say or do for someone during this time. Therefore, I’m so grateful to have people in my life who look beyond my I’m ok and check on me anyway. It means more to me than they probably realized.
I had a couple of spontaneous get-togethers today that were lovely and uplifting. One was coffee with a coworker after a budget meeting. We chatted for a while about a whole range of topics, both work-related and personal. I admire this person greatly; she is both intelligent and wise and extremely gracious. She is the type of person who can express herself in ways that are both eloquent and emotional, so I’m always trying to take notes. I’m the type of person who, when I get emotional, my words fail me. It’s not that I’m prone to angry outbursts. I rarely get worked up enough to yell, but if I’m passionate enough about something, I find it difficult to speak at all. That’s saying a lot since I was on the speech team in college. I know how to speak in public and have no fears doing so, but only if I’ve been able to carefully craft my language ahead of time. I could not compete in debate. I’d fail miserably. I can barely even hold a meaningful conversation and walk at the same time. But this woman, she’s the real deal. I’ve watched her discuss frustrating issues with people at work and not cross that line of being disrespectful or embarrassing, no matter how irritated I knew she was. She’s also the type of person who can ask probing questions without sounding nosey, because she seems to genuinely care about the answer. My daughter and I were discussing friendships tonight and she asked if I had ever had a “squish” which apparently is a platonic crush on someone. On anyone, guy or girl? If so, it’s my coworker. The other get-together was this evening with a friend from an old neighborhood. We don’t get to see each other as much anymore, so once I knew my evening was open, I asked her if she could stop over. We have been trying to get together for while. We drank some wine and caught up. She too is a classy lady. Beautiful both inside and out. Her way is more subdued, but just as genuine. I know when she asks about my life and what’s new with me, she honestly wants to know. There’s no pretense and there’s no judgment. Sitting and chatting is easy and appreciated. I am grateful today for both of these moments with friends. I hope I was able to give them the same sense of friendship that they gave to me.
It was a frustrating day overall. Do you ever have those times where you feel mired down in mediocrity? Where things are just eh but you know they could and should be so much better? I was at that point on several levels today. At work, with my class, with myself. For some reason, I feel stalled. Of course, at this point, I figure I can blame pretty much everything on the never ending winter, so ultimately that’s what I decided to do. I’ll move beyond this humdrum once temperatures rise about 30 degrees and my motivation returns. In the meantime, I did what most girls would do, I whined to my friends. And I really hate whining…even from myself. I try not to do it that often, and when I do, I give myself a short timeframe to get it out. Thankfully, I have some pretty awesome friends. They gave me a good mixture of awww…I totally understand and yeah, you’ll get over it. I appreciate the doses of reality the most because sitting in crap forever just stinks. While I think it’s natural and necessary sometimes to sit in the muck of life, I don’t think it’s good to set up house there. I like to get out of it as soon as possible, so I respond pretty well to a proverbial slap. I’m glad the frustration I felt today isn’t a daily occurrence and that I have friends who care enough to make sure of it.
I had an excellent evening with some lovely women. A good friend of mine had a get-together that she dubbed Love Your Life…Get Inspired. She asked everyone to bring something that inspired them personally, a poem, a book, a quote, a recipe…whatever. The idea was to share inspirational tidbits with others. She’s the type of person who wants to lift people up and help them grow and become the best version of themselves. A great person to have in your corner.
I have to admit to something, though, and I didn’t tell her this. I was a little hesitant to go. Not because I didn’t want to be part of the inspiration, but because she had invited a lot of people–and many people I didn’t know. And not just people, but all women. I was intimidated by that. While I think I am more extroverted than introverted, I really shy away from groups. Anything more than 6 people, and my introvert comes out. And if those people are women, I will clam up. It’s not that I don’t get along with women, but a group of women can be a tough crowd to navigate. There’s a reason women have a reputation for drama. Because there’s usually drama. I’m not trying to perpetuate stereotypes by saying that. From my experience, I think a lot of women worry about what’s not being said as much as what is being said in a conversation…and that can lead to misunderstandings and hurt feelings. To protect myself, I’ve learned from a rather young age to either listen more and talk less, or avoid groups of women all together.
So, back to my evening. I love my friend and want to support her whenever I can. She would and has done the same for me. Therefore, I put on my big girl panties and went to her party, ready to share some things that inspire me. As it would turn out, several women had other obligations/parties/whatever, and it ended up being a smaller group than expected. Rather than be disappointed, my friend was thrilled that those of us who came embraced the whole idea of sharing. We ended up having some very real, open conversations with each other. In fact, we touched on the disappointment that as women, it is sometimes hard to connect in ways that are honest. We also talked about how it’s easier to embrace the notion that as we age, it’s necessary to cull through the relationships we have and let go of the ones that are damaging or toxic. I felt I learned something and contributed something and left feeling better about myself somehow. Certainly something to be thankful for. Not bad for a girls night out.
Valentine’s Day. A day of hearts and flowers and smarmy poetry and red and pink everything. I know it’s a Hallmark holiday, manufactured for gift-giving, blah, blah, blah. I know we shouldn’t need an actual day to express our love and appreciation for the people in our lives, but I have to admit, the hopeless romantic in me enjoys this day. Maybe it’s because my mom used to go out for all holidays that I can’t imagine a life without these celebrations. Even when single, I found ways to make a fuss. I give my kids stuff, usually silly themed socks and candy. I send my friends notes signed BFF. I bring candy or cookies or cupcakes to work to share. I usually try to give some kind of treat to my students. Today I gave my kids a 3 pound bag of gummi bears to share, Hershey bars, and little glass hearts on ribbon. I passed out two bags of candy at work and sent a few sappy emails to friends. I even got some emails sent to me and a couple of sweet surprises –one involving Skittles, my addiction, delivered in a big red heart.
However, the best part of today was getting to spend time with someone who’s just as weird as I am. And I mean that in the best possible way. Isn’t it cool to find someone who clicks with you in a way not everyone else can understand? We had a nice dinner but then spent most of our evening being silly. Laughing at dumb jokes, making up our own dumb jokes, poking fun at each other. It’s the beginning of something I hope lasts a long time. In my effort to enjoy the journey, I’m not looking too far ahead. Instead, I’m thankful for the hours tonight and the anticipation of more to come.
I’ve been playing catch up on another tv show. I know, I know…it seems I do a lot of that. I really only have four shows I’m hoping to keep up with: The Walking Dead, Dr. Who, Sherlock and Downton Abbey. Most of them I’ve begun watching because one of my kids or a friend has insisted it’s wonderful and I really should watch it. Last month, I binge watched the first three. This month it’s Downton Abbey. My youngest and I have been watching the show together, which has been great fun. We have the same sense of humor and especially enjoy the cheeky comments of Violet, the Dowager Countess of Grantham. She’s the matriarch of the Grantham clan and often has fabulous one-liners that are completely spot on. I’m half tempted to write them all down and try to work them into my daily conversations, just for fun. My daughter’s and my goal is to get caught up in time for the current episode tomorrow night. We haven’t been able to watch them together at the same time, and I found out that she watched a couple on her phone because she had no access to it any other way. I wasn’t sure how I should feel about that: worried that she’s becoming a tv addict or impressed that she was so determined.
The show has been interesting in that there are so many secrets and cover-ups. It seems very few are able to be truly themselves; most hide behind the masks they are forced to wear because of their position in society. And it isn’t just the aristocracy. Even the servants have roles to play and are forced to hide their feelings in order to do their jobs properly. It’s easy to watch and think, what a shame it is that they can’t just say what they truly think or feel, until the realization hits that life really is often that way. It’s so easy to hide behind the person we present to the world, worried to make a mistake or show our true feelings in case we are rejected. And like what happens in this tv show, we go along on assumptions that aren’t always correct, often to our own detriment.
I recently experienced that with a friend. We hadn’t talked in weeks, mostly because we misunderstood cues from each other. Assuming what wasn’t true and worrying about what it meant, instead of clarifying. Finally, it was too hard to be silent, and just as I figured I was going to have to say something, he did instead. It’s a relief to be free of wondering and know we’re still friends. Today, I’m very grateful for that.
Every Thursday night I have a standing dinner date with a group of friends. We try out different restaurants in the area, each week picked by a different member of the group. The idea is to try as many different places as possible, although we do have favorites we recycle often: a Japanese restaurant for their amazing gyoza, a couple of taverns for the crazy selection of craft beer, and a downtown “lounge” for the wonderful food and martinis. Last year the group tried over 25 different places, which is not bad considering fast food restaurants don’t make the cut and our city is not that big.
This group was started by several math faculty where I work and expanded to include a few others invited in over time. There are only eight of us at the moment, although usually one or two can’t make it any given week, so it’s rare lately that the entire group actually shows up. I was invited last year right around the time I broke things off with my ex-boyfriend. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. After all, I was in a position of leaving not only my ex, but most of my friends. He was an extremely social person and had a huge network of friends that got together often. And while I would still consider most of them my friends and still see them periodically, I’m not an idiot. They were his first, so he would always have first dibs on invites. When I moved out, I knew I was leaving behind my current life and would need to move on and find my own.
Having a standing social event every Thursday night became a lifeline for me in those months following my break up. I’m not sure the group really knows that since I’m not one to do a lot of self-disclosing in a crowd. I looked forward to math dinner like someone who’s reading a novel she can’t put down. I enjoyed the quirky conversations that centered around inside jokes (a lot), work (sometimes) and math problems (often). The person who had invited me was a fairly new friend, and one other I knew previously, but the rest, while familiar faces, were new people to me. The becoming in a new friendship is like a flower slowly opening. Lovely at every point, yet the final outcome is uncertain. Will the entire flower emerge? Will it be what you expected? Will it last or wither and fade quickly?
They will laugh at my metaphor, but I’m an English major so they will have to forgive me. In their language, I’m an outlier. But they didn’t cross me off, and for that I’m thankful. I’m still enjoying the becoming…I hope it lasts a very long time.