Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Friendsday #4

If you got here somehow other than through Facebook, here's a catch up: I'm starting a series of posts about people in my life who make my life better.  I want to take the time to thank them because it's just a great way to live.  If you missed my other Friendsday posts, you can read them here and here and here.

After attending a private school through eighth grade, my parents made the decision to send me to the public high school by our house.  Aside from the excitement and anxiety everyone experiences transitioning to high school, I went from being in a class of 65 students to a class of nearly 400.  My personality has always lent itself to making a few deep friendships, and in a sea of strangers, there was one person who made the changes slightly less painful.

The first week of school, the school organized a Sadie Hawkins dance—you know, the kind where the girl has to ask the guy—which is in fact one of the worst of ideas ever.  I mean, I’m sure the girls who had just gotten back together with their eighth grade boyfriends following their summer break-ups were fine, but I was starting at ground zero, so I did what anyone in my situation would do—I asked the boy who sat next to me in my first period English class.
Dan with his sweet wife and manchild.  Love this picture!
Dan was funny and smart, and in the three days I’d known him before I had to find a “date” to the dance, I decided he would do.  You know how there’s this theory out there that there’s no such thing as a platonic relationship between guys and girls?  Well, that’s stupid.  From that night on, Dan became a confidante and a study buddy and eventually the stabilizing third wheel in my relationship with my high school boyfriend.  Many of my fondest memories of high school involved cheering Dan on in his football or soccer games and wrestling matches, eating Taco Bell at late night AP History study sessions at his house or mine, or missing curfew and getting grounded because we were doing something stupid.

When we each prepared to leave for college (I was headed to Trinity in San Antonio, and he was headed to the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs), I had no doubt that our friendship would survive the long distance.  Labor Day weekend of our sophomore year, I traveled to CO to visit him over “parents’ weekend” at the Academy.  His family was leaving earlier than I could get away from school and work, so they connected me with a nice family, the Johnsons, who were traveling to see their son who also attended the Air Force Academy.

Three months later at a New Years’ Eve party, I answered someone else’s phone that had been left on the counter.  On the other end, a voice said, “Who is this?”  When I answered, the guy said, “You mean Dan’s friend, Leia?”  Up to this point in my life, I’d been “Steve and Nancy’s daughter” and “Lyn and Lisa’s niece” and “Hazel and Claudine’s grand-daughter,” but yes, I was “Dan’s friend, Leia,” too.  I gave Scott Johnson, the son of the nice people who helped me get to CO to see my best friend, directions to the party.

When Scott and I got married three years later, we asked Dan to stand with us, and when his Air Force duty would not allow him to fly home for the wedding, we didn’t replace him.  We were down one groomsman, but it didn’t matter.  His absence as we held his place was far more important than balancing the wedding party.  On some level, he was the reason we were even celebrating our wedding in the first place.

A couple of years ago, Scott and I were struggling to find balance in our family life and marriage.  I was deeply depressed, and Scott was attempting to keep too many plates spinning at work.  The result was a palpable feeling of distance and reevaluation on both of our parts.  Dan showed up to support Scott at his graduation ceremony from an Air Force training program, and in some of our free time, the three of us were lying by the hotel pool having beers and catching up.  At one point, I made an exasperated comment, intuitively knowing it was safe to say certain things out loud to Dan that I wouldn’t have said to most people.  After filling him in on how the stresses of military life were adversely affecting me and the kids, I said, “I can’t stay married if things stay this way.  I’d rather be divorced than keep living like this.”

Dan’s response was steady, but also unexpectedly emotional.  His words were simple: you don’t mean that.  I could see in him surprise and disappointment and pain.  Those four words came back to me in the following months when Scott and I did the hard work of therapy, communicating in ways we had never needed to in the past.  Dan’s face literally came to mind in times when I needed to combat negative thoughts that were the result of depression, rather than based in reality.  He was right—I didn’t really mean that.  And Dan was just one of many people who would have been surprised and disappointed and hurt if Scott and I had decided to throw in the towel.

Dan and I are two years away from celebrating a twenty year frienderversary, which is totally not possible because we are not that old, and while his and Scott’s Air Force careers have never allowed us to live in the same place again, he remains the stabilizing force in my life that he was when we were fifteen.

From Dan, I’ve learned the necessity of surrounding myself with people who love me even when I’m a mess.  I am a fiercely loyal friend to the people I love largely in part because Dan showed me how and why that’s important.  Watching him become a husband and a dad has elicited pride in my heart not dissimilar to the way I feel watching my kids meet milestones.  I’m proud to watch him grow with his family because I have been privileged to be on the receiving end of his wisdom, dependability, and fidelity.  As an only child I can’t be completely sure, but I think this is what it feels like to have a brother.

Dan, I know you might be rolling your eyes at the sentimentality of this, but I don’t care.  I know behind the eye rolling is a giant heart.  Love you, man.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Friendsday #3

If you got here somehow other than through Facebook, here's a catch up: I'm starting a series of posts about people in my life who make my life better.  I want to take the time to thank them because it's just a great way to live.  If you missed my other Friendsday posts, you can read them here and here.

I’m in the middle of one of those weeks.  Everything that’s happening is fun and happy and great, but I have been going non-stop.  I fell asleep on the couch last night, lying against Scott, and he propped me up with a giant stuffed polar bear the kids have been playing with and let me sleep there all night.  I’m looking at my to-do list, fully aware that there’s no way I can get it all done, but I have been looking forward to today since LAST Wednesday, so I’m pausing for a moment (more like 43 minutes because that’s how long I have until I have to leave to take the kids to gymnastics) to say THANKYOUTHANKYOUTHANKYOU to another shining star in my life.  

I don’t want to sound all dramatic and sentimental, but YOU GUYS, knowing that I get to write about the people I love once a week has just…I don’t know.  It’s just been so life-affirming and perspective-shaping.  You should try it.
I had to use this picture of Kelsey because
1) almost all of the pictures on her FB page have other people in them, and
2) it's probably the best thing I've ever seen in my life.  I look at this picture sometimes
when I'm stalking her on FB late at night and need a pick-me-up.
So, I met Kelsey through my mom when she started working at the school where my mom had been a teacher and guidance counselor for almost twenty years.  Because I was living in SC at the time, I only knew OF Kelsey for a couple of years before I met her.  Once a week or so, I’d hear a story about something creative or smart Kelsey had done in her classroom, or my mom would give me a book recommendation, saying, “Kelsey told me I HAD to read it, so you know it’s going to be good.”  After awhile, my mom started joking around about her “other daughter.”

Kelsey and I are about the same age, and while I had never spent any *actual* time with her, I started to fall in love with who she was and with who she was to my mama.  What I knew about her: she was passionate about teaching and loving kids who had been labeled unteachable and unlovable.  She had a quirky sense of humor that carried my mom and the other staff members through some tough times for their school community.  She thought outside the box and challenged her kids to do the same, despite the fact that many of the kids she taught came from high-risk backgrounds that led other people to believe hope was lost.

Eventually, I was able to meet Kelsey in real life and stop living vicariously through my mom’s friendship with her.  I tried to make a point to hang out with her on my visits to OK, and my time with her rounded out the character I’d created in my mind.

This year, Kelsey made a tough decision to move back to CO to be closer to her family, and she’s one of the reasons I thank God for technology.  I can see what she’s reading on Goodreads, and I can say hooray when she finds an apartment, and I can cry (I know, it’s stupid—having children unclogged my tear ducts, and now I can’t stop) when she posts pictures of herself with her dad because even though I don’t know her dad, I know how awesome it is to love your dad that much.  When I started doing this two weeks ago, Kelsey was one of the first people to respond, saying that my quest to thank and love the people who have impacted me in ways big and small was “inspired.”

If I were to think of a word to describe Kelsey, that would be it.  We talk of ideas being inspired, but Kelsey is living an inspired life.  This is somewhere around the same realm of being a free spirit but with gravitas.  She’s living her life very much in the way I want to live mine—she’s independent but understands the strength of community; she’s funny—like laugh out loud wit funny—but understands the depth that sorrow brings; and she’s vulnerable—the way Brene Brown talks about vulnerability in Daring Greatly, “Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren't always comfortable, but they're never weakness.”  I covet the way Kelsey gracefully embraces and exposes truth and courage in ways that make others around her want to seek truth and find courage in themselves.

I believe that every person who comes into my life has the potential to teach me a lesson, and I feel like I’m sitting at the feet of one of the greats in being Kelsey’s student friend.  She’s taught me the importance of appreciating the people who love the people I love.  I live far away from many of the people I love most, and during the few years that Kelsey was working with my mom, I knew that she was a soft place my mom could land if needed.  I’ve also learned to take risks, especially when naysayers tell me something can’t be done, and then to embrace the change with joy.  And finally, I’ve seen Kelsey nurture herself—through books and friendships and through the choice she recently made to move to CO, which I believe is the reason she has the energy she does to give so fully to those of us who have been witness to her beauty.

So, today, in the middle of the craziness, I took a minute to nurture myself by writing about someone who taught me how to do that.  Kelsey, you’re one of a kind.  I hope you know how much I love you.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Friendsday #2

If you got here somehow other than through Facebook, here's a catch up: I'm starting a series of posts about people in my life who make my life better.  I want to take the time to thank them because it's just a great way to live.  If you missed my first Friendsday post, you can read it here.

The first time I met Vicki was at an event for the spouses of the 14th Airlift Squadron at Charleston AFB.  At first appearances, Vicki and I had very little in common, especially compared to just about everyone else in the room.  Most of us were moms of toddlers, and thinking back on what Vicki’s perspective might have been, she was probably really, really tired of hearing stories about poop and nap times.

When Vicki asked me if I wanted to meet her for lunch one day, my first thought was actually, “Why would she purposely want to hang out with me and my two-year-old?”  Vicki didn’t have any kids, and what little I did know about her was that she had a law degree and was married to one of my husband’s bosses.  Despite the fact that Vicki had never given any indication that any of this mattered to her, as a young lieutenant’s wife, I was hesitant to create relationships beyond polite acquaintance with my husband’s superiors and their spouses.  (I have since learned that the vast majority of Air Force members are open and warm and leave their rank in the office.)

We met for sushi, and Will was as well-behaved as could be expected, but as lunch ran long, I knew we needed to move on to a more kid-friendly environment.  Vicki invited us over to her house, which was in the same neighborhood.  Our conversation over lunch had turned quickly to books and traveling—two things of great importance in my life, so I agreed to stop over for a bit.  When I got to her house, I saw what was sure to be the end of our relationship.  Vicki was a cat lady!  I think she had somewhere between 17 and 652 cats.  I couldn’t be sure.  To someone as allergic to cats as I am, it might as well have been four thousand.  Luckily, I’d taken my allergy medicine that morning, so I steeled myself for a short visit.
The above picture is literally the only picture on Vicki's FB page of herself,
so I'm adding a picture of her cats.
I'm pretty sure that's what Vicki would want anyway.
The first thing Vicki said when we walked into the house was, “Pardon the mess.”  To be honest, it was sort of a mess, but not any messier than my house could be on any given day.  There were some stacks of books and some dishes on the counter and what looked to be a few bags from a recent shopping excursion.  My focus was quickly pulled away from anything that could be considered a mess when I saw Vicki’s library.  It was like a real, true library—not just random bookshelves pieced together like in my house—but a whole room devoted to books.  Lots of books!  Multiple versions of the Harry Potter series in different languages.  Old books.  New books.  Bestsellers and classics and…and…and…I found it difficult to breathe.  And not just because of the cats.

Over the last few years, I’ve learned a good deal more about Vicki, and her life is fascinating—from being one of six girls in a truly book-worthy family to her marrying her husband by justice of the peace in Enid, OK to the magic she works in her garden.  Our relationship is primarily nurtured over Facebook, as we live so far from each other, but I get to see the way she interacts with her world on a daily basis.  She challenges people diplomatically, celebrates victories no matter how small with encouraging words, and engages fully in her world.  She’s an avid reader, an excellent wife, a cat lover, and a genealogist—and I don’t think she misses anything.  Whether it’s something as minor as the death of a famous musician or what someone is wearing on the red carpet or something as major as natural disasters or terrorist attacks, I can count on Vicki to be informed and to keep me informed.  She’s like my personal headline news coverage.

First and foremost, Vicki has taught me that people who love cats can, in fact, be trusted.  Also, I look to her as an example of what I want to be like as an officer’s wife in many ways.  There will be a day when I am that old lady (I think I might be already—yikes!) to whom young spouses look for cues on how to navigate the world of military life, and because of Vicki I know that kindness far outweighs a clean house.  I want to be approachable and never to take myself too seriously.  I’ve also learned from her what it looks like to support a husband, while pursuing my goals to lead a fulfilling life outside the Air Force, a task many military spouses struggle to accomplish.

Most importantly, Vicki is the living, breathing application to the old adage to “never judge a book by its cover.”  We are really different people.  I have children; she does not.  Vicki once threw a spouse social at which she had everyone potting plants, while eating dishes all of which came at least partially from her personal garden (including the mojitos!); I buy a new basil plant at Trader Joe’s every week because I can’t make one grow in a pot.  Our age difference is just enough for her to say things to me like, “You’re too young to remember this, but…”  And did I mention the cat thing?

What I’ve learned from Vicki, though, is that “taking 'the other’ to lunch” as Elizabeth Lesser suggests, has helped me see just how much I have in common with and love about the “other.”  There are lots of things that we can’t agree on from big to small—William Faulkner is my favorite, and she loves James Joyce (blah!).  We have walked really different spiritual paths.  And yet, maybe the most vital piece of our friend puzzle is this: when I interact with Vicki, no matter if we agree or disagree, I always, always, always, always, ALWAYS feel loved and respected.  And that is really all any of us needs.

So, cheers to you today, Vicki.  My tea cup is lifted in your honor.  Thank you, and I love you.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Friendsday #1

If you got here somehow other than through Facebook, I'm starting a series of posts about people in my life who make my life better.  I want to take the time to thank them because it's just a great way to live.

Danielle and I met in the nursing room at Babies R Us a few weeks after each of us gave birth for the first time.  Sitting in adjacent rocking chairs and talking quietly over the sounds of our noisy little piggies, we learned that our boys, W and C, were just a few weeks apart in age.  I don’t know who suggested exchanging phone numbers, but we did, and about a month later, we organized a play group with some moms around the same stage as us.

Over the next couple of years, we met for play dates, attended birthday parties, and swapped tired mom stories.  One year when my husband was deployed, she invited us to join them for trick-or-treating, acutely aware of what it’s like to celebrate fun times without a spouse, as her husband is also in the Air Force.

Danielle’s husband was transferred, and eventually we moved, too, and we live 3,000 miles away from each other, yet through Facebook, I’m able to watch her live—now a mom of three boys who recently made it through a year-long deployment.  One of the things I love most about Danielle is her campaign to end “Fakebooking,” the way some people use social media to highlight mountaintop living without acknowledging the valleys of their lives.  She’s a proud mama and wife, who isn’t afraid of celebrating successes, but she also posts pictures of her destroyed play room after a day when she just doesn’t feel like cleaning.  Aside from her work as a mom and military spouse, she is one of the most talented photographers I know.  In an age of momography, Instagram, and selfies, she uses her camera the way Michelangelo used paint.  She’s a true artist.

In the eight years that I’ve known Danielle, she has taught me the importance of being authentic, the blessing that hospitality can be in other people’s lives, and the necessity and satisfaction involved in pursuing creative inspiration.

So, thank you, Danielle, for who you are to me.  I love you, and I’m sorry that this is the first time I’ve ever said it.

If you’re in or anywhere near South Carolina, do yourself a favor and book Danielle for a photo session.  If life (or the Air Force) ever brings us back to one another, it will be priority number one for me.