I have always been fascinated by magnets, whether shown on a world map, indicated by arrows pointing to the North Pole, a magnetic desk gadget holding paper clips, or two magnets, either attracting or repelling as their relative positions change. Recently, I have wondered whether there is a similar invisible mechanism governing friendship. As I consider my friends, I recognize a strong pull towards some and a similar repulsion toward others, and everything in between. Yes, we can often identify common interests that pull friends together or disagreements that push them apart, but it’s something else that contributes to the best, longest lasting friendships.
I have a confession to make: unlike most people I know, I have generally valued friends more than relatives. Sacrilegious! I remember as a young teenager believing this deeply, thinking that my friends knew me better than any relatives ever could, and that would always be so. Has that changed as I’ve aged? In some ways, yes, but I continue to value friendship deeply. This essay attempts to capture some of those friendships, not because they have all lasted forever — many of them had limited lives — but because I value many friends in so many different ways. Many of my friends have come packaged in groups, based on activities that we share. Let me describe some of those groups.
I must begin with the Goddesses, simply because that group began in such a distinctive way. About thirty-five years ago, two friends decided they wanted to enlarge their circle, so they each invited someone unknown to the other to join them. Then, those two did the same, until there were about a dozen of us. We met about once a month at someone’s house, then after about six months, spent a weekend together at a vacation home. We were different ages, covering at least three decades, different professions, single, married, some mothers, some not, varied in many ways, but all white, working women, all heterosexual. We thought of ourselves as a diverse group. Now, thirty-five years later, some have moved to other states, one to another country, one has died, and another has dementia and can no longer recognize us. The six of us who remain are still connected through this shared past and reach across miles and various schedules to connect, once every few months.
Earlier this month, four of us met for lunch at a central location. Food has always been an important part of our gatherings. As always, we remembered those not among us, recognizing the reasons — work and family schedules, as some of us are still young enough to be employed and/or raising children. As always, we relished the blessing we experience, being in each other’s lives, feeling treasured. Also as always, surrounded by chatter, we each did a ‘check-in,’ a time when the spotlight shines on us individually, allowing time to share an uninterrupted unveiling of our current lives, our fears and our hopes. An important part of our gatherings has always been nurturing and nourishing each other’s dreams.
We spent some time remembering our early days, deciding that we need to schedule a long weekend together, even with Covid. Preparing for this lunch in this restaurant, we were each tested prior to meeting. We also talked about something not remembered recently: our goddess names! Back at the beginning, we each had bestowed upon us a special name, including these: Pasqual, for the tremendously creative cook among us; Diva, for the musically gifted woman; Skyclad, for the first among us to skinny-dip on one of our long weekends; Tumbleweed, for the wanderer; and more. For the first time that I can remember, we suggested the giving of new names, recognizing the many changes we’ve all experienced and the new people we’ve become. All those decades ago, I was called Spiritual Agent, which I newly appreciate and am not certain that I want replaced.
Andrea was a woman I met on a cruise taken to celebrate my fiftieth birthday, a cruise filled with authors who wrote of psychic and paranormal phenomena, including Raymond Moody and Shakti Gawain. Andrea was the first among us to die, leaving us about three years ago. Many of us gathered on Martha’s Vineyard, one of her homes, to celebrate her life with others who had heard of ‘the goddesses,’ but had not met us. Andrea was a creative artist and her colorful urn, of her own design, has become the inspiration behind the urn which I am having made for my own ashes. I was one of the many who read a poem at her service, this one by John O’Donahue, one of our shared and beloved poets. When I finished reading and returned to my seat, it was to the repeated question: are you one of the goddesses!? Our reputation had preceded us.
With the goddesses, and going back to magnets, although some of us had strong connections to each other, what we most shared was a strong, seemingly magnetic pull to something invisibly at our center. We never questioned or identified it. It was simply there. We all felt it, whether or not we openly acknowledged it. In other groups, it is clearly defined. My book group clearly gathers to discuss books, my writing groups clearly meet to write, and my neighborhood group gathers because we all value our neighborhood. Other groups also often have identified ‘centers,’ if you will, that are mutually agreed upon and remain, at least superficially, as the reason for continued gatherings.
Other friend groups I need to include are my tap dancing buddies, rowing friends, friends with dogs, the Kiva group, Quakers, work friends, activists, and my oldest friends, those I have known since high school. These circles of friends could be illustrated with Venn diagrams, overlapping circles, each with its own distinctive invisible center. For example, the Kiva group overlaps my neighborhood group, with a shared area. Similarly, my dog friends overlap with neighbors and my book group. Getting a dog about twenty years ago, sadly deceased about seven years ago, led me to an entirely new group of friends. Many of those friendships have outlasted our dogs. Once you’ve had a dog and loved it, a kinship easily develops with other dog-owners. Conversation flows effortlessly and many shared concerns are apparent.
To be continued . . .
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