When I think about friendship in a general sense, what comes to mind is gathering of friends in celebration of birthdays, weddings, memorials and graduations. It's people making time in their schedules to include the important events of someone else, it's meeting for lunch or coffee, it's sharing conversation and life.
On a much deeper level, friendship is an act of caring and love. A friend, by my definition, is a person who makes a difference on a very personal and intimate level. Someone who accepts the other, positive attributes, warts and all. These are the people who have seen me at my delirious, happiest moments and held my heart in their hands in my darkest days. My friends' personalities range from serious and formal to totally quirky. Each has had a profound impact on my life. My closest friends have loved me for many years. I have loved them.
I have deeply held friendships within my family unit and extended family members, but, today I'm writing about the enduring friendships outside of the family confine. These are the friends that have had a profound, long-lasting impact on me in such a way as to enhance and/or alter my life significantly.
I met Joannie in the eighth grade, we were 13 years old (counting to now, that's 50 years-Good Grief!). My family had just moved to West Los Angeles in the middle of the school year. Being extremely shy and feeling insecure, it was a painful transition. As I sat in class on my first day, feeling quite isolated, I was greeted by this bright, friendly girl. She had a big, warm smile and long brown curly hair. She walked over to my desk, bent close to me and said, "You are so beautiful! Would you like to eat lunch with us?" My fear melted away. There began our relationship, a friendship that started with a hand stretched out in kindness that has held strong over time, distance, years of separation, boyfriends, babies, marriages, divorces and grandchildren. We have shared so many stories. She is Mommy Joannie to my children, I am Mommy Ronda to hers. Joannie has a heart that accepts and loves every person she meets. She always finds the shining light, the good that lies within each individual. She lives life with complete, pure love, always expecting good to come forward. I love this amazing woman and consider her my soul mate. That may seem an odd assumption, but there it is.
Lorraine and I met through a mutual friend during a very tumultuous time in our lives and in the world. It was about 1970, we were 21. The war in Vietnam was still going on, there were demonstrations, some peaceful, some violent. It was a time of highly charged emotions and conflict. Lorraine and I both had very young children and wound up sharing a home together. We were as different as any two people could be. Yet we worked. We loved. She studied to be an attorney, a vocal liberal activist. She was brilliant. I learned a lot from her and will be ever grateful that she shared this world with me. I was more of a naive, go-with-the-flow, middle-of-the-road individual. Lorraine brought honesty, excitement and enlightenment into my view. We weathered the shocking death of our friend, Diana, temporary but troublesome issues between us and many years of distance with limited communication. Yet, we reconnected and found a bond still unites us. The bond of friendship and love, once based in our youth, now growing in maturity. I'm thankful for every moment with Lorraine, her kind heart, her spirit, and that she makes me think beyond my own knowledge and experience. She continues to challenge me.
Chrys has been in my life for 35 years. She taught home birth preparation classes, which is where we met. When the time came to welcome my daughter, Destyn, into our lives, my doctor was unavailable for the planned home birth. His office asked me to come to the clinic. I declined, telling them, "I'll birth my baby alone if I have to, but I'm not going anywhere." I admit this wasn't necessarily the wisest solution, but I do have quite a stubborn, rebellious spirit sometimes. Remembering that Chrys had mentioned being a lay midwife, I called her and asked her to attend my birth. This woman, whom I'd met only briefly, came to my home (her six-month-old infant in tow), providing telephone updates to the doctor's staff. Of course, the nurses were freaking out that I didn't have a doctor in attendance. Eventually, the doctor did make it, just in time...about one minute just in time! This most intimate experience was the beginning of a long friendship. She has cared for my children, I've worked in her child care center, she was my midwife at the home birth of my baby Savannah 24 years ago. There have been so many times that we have called on each other for support and to just kick around what's going on in our lives. She is someone who will always reach out to help another, be it acquaintance or long-time friend. Enduring and solid.
Corinne came into my life 30 years ago. Pregnant with my third baby and ready to burst, we met as homeschooling parents. Her son was 14, mine was 13. Our boys became fast friends and remain so today. A year later, Corinne weathered with me my separation and finally my divorce. One of the most crushing experiences in my life, she reached down and dragged me out of deep depression and gently, but firmly, pulled me from the darkness of suicide when I thought I couldn't bear it anymore. She shook me into reality. Thankfully, she reminded me that my children needed me, that I was valued, that I was lovable. We remain friends, surviving more trials in our families than anyone should have to endure. But, survive we have.
Jackee is a friendship lost. A tragic and painful loss that still brings me to tears. We met at a church function about a year after my husband and I separated. I've been as close to Jackee as I've been to any woman. We shared highs and lows..exhilarating and crazy experiences. She was vivacious and outgoing, She was the personification of 'fun'. After 20 years of friendship, including her many highs and depressions along the way, a volatile episode brought us to the final chapter. It was one of the single most devastating losses of my life. Although our relationship shattered, I still love her. Regardless of the ending, it is a relationship that included years of kindnesses and caring. It stays with me. Achingly so.
The friendships detailed below began in a working environment, my team members.
I was introduced to Matt when he joined our department 19 years ago. Matt infuses humor and silly antics into almost every space he enters. He is surprising and warm, always striving to do right by others. We became friends initially through shared circumstances at work, but that evolved and moved beyond the working environment. Matt has such a good heart, will go to the ends of the earth for a friend or family member, to his own detriment. He is a Libra. I get that. Our experiences revolved around more than work issues. Family concerns, our children, his divorce and 'coming out' as gay, painful issues with my 'ex'. Later, I was introduced to Matt's partner, Rodel, an innovative, talented and generous young man. My life has been enhanced many times over with the love that these two men continue to share with me and with my family.
Skott also joined my department 19 years ago. His impact was immediate. He lead with enthusiasm, a smile, innovative ideas and a warm heart. He always had a way of sparking interest and support for his ideas. He was a bright light. He is still a bright light of enthusiasm and heart. Skott and his partner, JR, have embraced love in its sweetest form as they work toward adopting the young foster child they have raised since birth. I have such a deep respect and love for this family. As for Skott, I am grateful for the warm cloak of friendship that he has shared with me.
Kirsi joined our department just out of college, an intern. She is one of the most charming, hard working, efficient, effervescent people I've every met. I don't know if there is anything Kirsi would hesitate to face, tackle and ultimately overcome. I have watched her grow up from youth to brilliant businesswoman and treasured friend. Kirsi challenges me to think beyond my usual 'safe' space, encouraging me to push outside the box of inaction and fear that sometimes keeps me trapped. Her enthusiasm for living life to its fullest is a constant reminder of what is achievable. She is easy to love. Though many years my junior, she is a true inspiration. She is fierce, she is unstoppable. She makes me want to grow.
Christine is the epitome of grace under fire. This smart, seemingly self-contained woman spreads a calm to those around her. Spiritual and intelligent, she strives for excellence, exuding confidence, full of love and deep compassion for others. There is a strength in Christine that has lead her safely through grievous loss, faith intact. Her friendship is one that leaves me humbled and grateful for our years together.
Loretta..Lovely Loretta we called her. My first impression of Loretta was, "OMG she talks so much!" What I ultimately discovered was a vibrant, full-of-life woman with a heart capable of loving even the seemingly unlovable. She's intelligent, articulate and creative with an energy that, quite literally, fills up the room when she enters. She has no fear of meeting new people, with a quality of enthusiasm and openness that seems to be missing in my DNA. I welcome the light of her generous nature and the kindness with which she operates her life and her relationships. We are able to share our deepest fears, our dreams, our failures and lift each other into a better place. I'm grateful for the love that she shares so freely.
There are other's in my life who have touched me with the love of friendship. Some have been with me for many years growing on the sidelines, friendships that have blossomed through a mutual connection. Others are in the early stages of intimacy and love, including some of the young families for whom I provide care to their children.
In contemplating my thoughts and feelings about the long-term, close friendships that have filled my life, I am reminded that friendship can come around the corner unexpectedly, housed with many and varied personalities, shapes, ages, religious beliefs, political leanings. Each friendship comes with different gifts. I have been fortunate to experience friendship in its deepest and most profound form, in ways that have enlightened, uplifted, taught, torn down and saved me. Differences have not been a factor and time has not diminished the love. The quality, the genuine care and the understanding that has filled and changed my life has helped to make me better. A better mother, a better human being, a better friend. I am grateful. I am honored.