Monday, August 31, 2009

the kindness of friends

I've been thinking a lot about the kindness of friends lately. The stories you always hear are the ones about the kindness of strangers. I guess it's more entertaining to hear about someone saving a stranger's life or helping someone they've never met find their way to the interstate. I'll admit that I, too, have been the benefactor of the kindness of strangers, and I agree the experience has its own special place in our world. There was the time I was in Scotland, plopping down heavily in my seat on the train I almost missed, only to discover I had gotten on the wrong train - heading in the right direction, but arriving too late for my connecting train. I confirmed my mistake with the ticket-taker, who came back a few minutes later and quietly said, "I've had a word with the driver, miss. She's going to put her foot down to get you there in time." The ticket-taker even met me on the platform and showed me just where to go to catch the next train. I can't say I think that would ever happen in the US - but it was a lovely example of the kindness of strangers.

I have also, of course, been the benefactor of the kindness of friends throughout my life. It would be impossible for me - for anyone - to accurately list and acknowledge a lifetime's worth of kindnesses. It feels the same way I feel when I walk into a great bookstore - even if I stopped everything I'm doing right now and just read books for the rest of my life, I would never be able to read them all.

There are the moments that really stand out, though, times when friends offered themselves to me and my family in selfless, loving, remarkable ways. There was the time a good friend who worked at our vet clinic made ceramic impressions of our beloved dog Lucy's feet after she died, knowing we would cherish them even though it must have been heartwrenching for her as well.

We experienced so many kindnesses when my mom was sick - meals delivered, pets cared for, heartfelt letters written. Friends who were willing to listen, and those who were willing to talk about something other than cancer for once. There were the friends who dropped what they were doing and drove many hours to be with me after my mom died, or who made the effort to attend mom's funeral in the middle of a busy winter quarter, or who sent baskets of blooming pink tulips in the middle of January.

A family illness and death is a great test of friendship - a real opportunity for error as well as selflessness. Moving is another time when your friends show up. When we left Athens, one of my friends came over and literally finished the move for us - packing up shopping bags full of stuff to be donated. Brian's uncle - he counts as a friend even if he's family too - along with my dad and others packed our UHaul so full of stuff it was a work of art. Items were actually suspended from the ceiling with rope. It was amazing. When we got to Asheville - Brian and I and my dad, two dogs, five cats, three cars, and a UHaul - colleagues from my new job and our new landlord helped us move Brian's baby grand piano into the new house. Moving a grand piano is NOT an easy job - one wrong move and someone is getting seriously hurt. These were people who weren't even really friends yet - they were banking on a future friendship.

Since becoming a parent - actually since becoming pregnant - the kindnesses we've experienced seem to have increased exponentially. There have been so many times when I have felt unable, or at least less-able than I used to be, to do the things that I needed to do to take care of myself, my home, my pets, and my family. When Dora was born, a whole contingent of friends formed to take care of the house and pets, bring us food, offer us support.

These friends have been the first people with whom I have entrusted Dora, and to this day I have many friends here and elsewhere who have helped with childcare over, and over, and over again, never asking anything in return. These friends don't just watch Dora, or stick her in front of the TV - she comes home fed, bathed, and ready for bed. There is nothing sweeter in this world than receiving a child back from the babysitter who can be snuggled, read to, and put to bed with so little effort.

I have had some dark days as a new mother, too. I had friends who stood by me through terrifying, troubling, unexpected anxiety - friends who listened at all hours of the night, who offered peaceful tones, who prayed for me and with me. I had friends during that time who would faithfully have me over for dinner every single weekend, knowing that when Brian was working was my most fearful time. These people sacrificed of themselves - giving up every weekend to take care of a friend who was in a fragile mental state. I think we need to amend the old saying - there but for the grace of God, and my friends, go I.

I cannot possibly list every kindness I have ever received from a friend, nor can I list all those wonderful friends by name. I feel like an actress giving an Oscar speech - I'm not going to name anyone lest I forget someone. I can't possibly include photos of all of you either. What I will do, to thank all of you, to remember all of you and how you've given me your grace to help me survive, is try to be that friend for someone else whenever I can. I will try and try and try to pay it forward, as best as I can, and when I fail I'll try again. What better lesson can I teach my daughter than that by offering herself to others - strangers and friends alike - she's taking a tiny step towards improving the world? I can't teach her to list all the friends who have helped her - already in her tiny life there are too many to list. In the meantime, though, let me just say this: you know who you are.


  1. Wow - very moving. There are reasons why you have so many kind friends...the blog above is a great example.

  2. Thanks so much, David. I'm sure you recognize your family in this story:) thanks for reading.

  3. well said! you have inspired me...