With Friends Like These...
If I seem almost normal now, it's because of them.
I want to talk a minute about friends. It’s easy to take our friends for granted when life is on an even keel. They’re available but not necessarily necessary. You know what I mean? The joy is in knowing they’re somewhere out there, even when you’re all okay with not being together.
You might go a long time without seeing each other, without calling, without even thinking about one another. Life happens. Then someone calls, maybe even you, and you’re all connected and happy in each other’s company until the next time, which may be even longer.
Sometimes your friends are your neighbors and, because you see them more often, that everyday familiarity is often enough. Until something happens, maybe to you. Then they’re the people you didn’t know you needed. Until you do.
You’ve probably guessed that I’m talking about me here. Since Ed died on March 16, I’ve been without my partner, the love of my life. Our anniversary came and went. On July 14 we would have celebrated our 66th year as a married couple. We would have taken it for granted, never dreaming our life together would end, though all of the signs were there. Maybe not this year, or, if we were lucky, even the next, but the years have piled up. Our bodies, likewise, were moving along pretty recklessly into a steady erosion. The end of the line.
It was inevitable that one of us would leave the other; that we wouldn’t go together as we had foolishly hoped. One of us would be left grieving. In that last year I knew in my heart it would be me. He was failing, day by day.
Then it happened, as I’ve written elsewhere, and a couple of months afterward I finally worked my way home. My home--our home--is 350 miles away from most of our family, and though they would have liked for me to be closer, I needed to be here. This is where we lived together.
And this is where my friends come in. I live, as many of you know, on a small, fairly remote island. My house is an old cottage, and it’s been falling apart at the same rate as we’ve been falling apart, which is to say, more rapidly as the years go by.
It gets closed up for the winter--no heat, no care--and houses really don’t like that. Every spring it’s a crap shoot: what damage will we find this time? The roof? The floors? The doors? The walls? The ancient furnace? The wood stove? Yes, all of that.
We tried like mad to be self-sufficient. We hate asking anyone for help, but on this island hiring good help is next to impossible. There are too few tradespeople, and the good ones are swamped. “I’ll get back to you” means “Don’t hold your breath”.
In between my grieving, I was feeling overwhelmed. What do I do now? I suggested just in passing to a few of my friends that I should probably sell this place and find something more practical. Well! You would have thought I said I was going to off myself. The horror!
Because I love it here. Because his essence is here. And they all know it. So now those blessed, wonderful, talented, and extremely able friends, along with my amazing family, have formed an army and things are getting done!
The grass is mowed. The toilet is flushing the way it’s supposed to. The storm door isn’t flapping in the wind anymore. They figured out why the dryer quit. They got the outside pump working and it’s drawing lake water again. I don’t dare say out loud that something isn’t right. They’re on it. And now they’re threatening to paint the house!
I’m still uneasy about it. I don’t know how to repay them, other than baking something, which they tell me they don’t need, or trying to give them something out of my house (I have vintage!), which they tell me they don’t need, or thanking them profusely, which they tell me they don’t need.
I love them all. I really do. But…
I honestly wouldn’t want to do any of this without them. I want them to know that, but if I tell them will they feel obligated then? Will they take me on as a reluctant project because they’re kind and generous and they can’t turn their backs on someone in need?
What would I do? I hope I would be kind and generous and do everything I could do to help.
Because that’s what friends do.
And, just like that, I have my answer. Accept. Enjoy. Be grateful and be gracious. These are my hard times. In time they’ll pass, and I’ll be stronger again. Strong enough to help where I’m needed, with a better understanding of the kinds of pain we think we can’t survive—but do.
I’ll be there for them, not with a need to reciprocate but as a friend. An old, rickety one, but a true friend.
And I hope they’re not as stubborn as I am when it happens.
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