Tag Archives: friendship

Cruising the Rhone River

Last month, I went on an AmaWaterways river cruise called Colors of Provence, and we sailed from Lyon to Avignon, with stops in Vienne, Tournon, Tarascon and Avignon.

Previously, I had gone on two large ship cruises (Alaska and Hawaii) and a windjammer sailing cruise off the coast of Maine (with 24 passengers), but this was my first river cruise, so I did not know what to expect.

The AmaKristina was built in 2017 and can hold 156 passengers. Most days offered three excursions (included in the cruise price) and a good variety of sights. I did the daily walking tour option and found the local guides to be very knowledgable.

Morning and afternoon exercise classes were offered most days and other amenities (massage, fitness room, laundry, etc.) were available. An e-postcard was offered through the myAmaCruise app, and I found that an easy way to share my cruise with family and friends back home. Here is the e-postcase I send after our stop in Vienne.

Cruise-travel-France

Meals were available in the Main Restaurant, the upstairs lounge (casual dining) and the Chef’s Table, a seven-course meal for a small number of people–I celebrated my birthday in the Chef’s Table, and it was a real treat. Here is my cake:

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Nightly, on-board entertainment was, well, entertaining. A pianist/opera singer jouneyed with us, and we enjoyed his musical talents throughout the days.

While we were still in port in Lyon, a representative from a silk company presented the process by which silk is produced and also had silk scarves for sale. And one afternoon, the sommelier played a wine game where we learned about wine regions in France.

One highlight of the trip was a day trip to Les Baux and the Carrieres des Lumieres. Les Baux is a town built high atop a craggy mountain, offering expansive views of Provence and plenty of shops and restaurants.

At the bottom of the hill is an old limestone quarry which has been repurposed as a theater presenting the Carrieres des Lumieres, an immersive light show inside the quarry. We saw a presentation of the art of Venice, and it was amazing.

I learned a great deal during this cruise and appreciated the excellent service on the AmaKristina. Travel usually includes some hiccups, and the staff responded to the unexpected with calm confidence.

As I reflect on those days, what stands out the most were the conversations I had with other travellers. I was traveling with two friends, and we connected with other women travelers, including a mother/daughter duo. Our travel tribe ranged in age from 24 to 86, and I marveled at the level of trust that developed in so short a time.

I was grateful for this opportunity to see a part of France from the vantage point of a river.

Mutual admiration society

Someone was telling me about a friend who had died, sharing the admirable characteristics this person had, which made me think of my own friends and what I admire about them.

One of my friends, someone I have known for almost fifty years, endured a debilitating disease when she was in her fifties. She recovered, but she was left financially depleted, and so she took a job overseas where she could make enough money to restore her retirement nest egg. I am not sure I could have uprooted myself and lived in the different places she lived, and I admire her courage and determination.

Another friend has incredible clarity about her values. When I think about standing up for what one believes, I think of her. She is unwavering in her commitment and untiring in deepening her knowledge about the issues that shape her life. I admire her clarity and commitment.

My dog died two years ago and rather than get another dog, I started dog sitting—inspired by the woman who had been my dog-sitter. Her love of dogs is pure, and the joy she gets from them is delightful to see. She helped shape me into the dog-lover I have become and she inspires me by her willingness to tell the world how much she loves dogs. I admire her childlike love of dogs and her freedom to express that love.

Several friends have lived in non-traditional communities—such as Catholic Worker Houses and l’Arche—and I admire their ability to successfully navigate community living.

Several friends inspire me by their generosity. One friend loves to cook and to share what she cooks, and another loves to garden and has helped me in my garden. I admire people who find their passion and are generous in sharing it.

I could go on and on, but I will stop there and invite you to think of your friends and what you admire in them. And once you have a good list going, start telling your friends what you admire about them. Perhaps they, in return, will share what they admire about you, and you can start you own mutual admiration society.

All that positive energy has the potential to transform us and our world.

Written on my heart

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I recently signed up to be an advocacy speaker for our local domestic abuse shelter, sharing my story of being a survivor of sexual assault and the help I got after I was raped.

While pondering my own story, another story I hold came to mind—of a woman I befriended after she had committed a heinous crime in my community. I recently came across a bundle of her letters and realized I carry a part of her story that no one else knows.

This woman had a mental illness and heard voices inside her head. One day, she obeyed the voices that had been telling her to do something shocking, something that would make people take notice. Her actions made no rational sense, but the mental illness jumbled rational thought.

In the weeks and months following the crime, I prayed for the victims of her crime, their families and our community; and I prayed for her.

God placed this woman in my heart, and I kept seeing her as God’s daughter, a woman God still loved despite what she had done. I did not excuse what she had done, and I understood the anger of my community toward her because I, too, felt that anger. Yet God kept inviting me to look beyond what she had done to see the woman who was ill and in need of compassion. God wrote her name on my heart and asked me to see her with the eyes of my heart (Ephesians 1:18).

Eventually, I got to know this woman, and we became friends. Although I have not seen her for a long time, I still carry her in my heart.

She is not the only person God has placed on my heart, and over the years God has invited me to look at people and situations through God’s eyes, to see beyond the external facts to a deeper truth.

It can be a great challenge for me to look beyond what people do—the pain they inflict and the damage they cause—to see them as God sees them. It helps to think of my own actions that have hurt others and my desire for God to see beyond what I do, my hope that God still sees me as a beloved daughter.

On my own, I would get stuck in anger or fear; it is only possible for me to be compassionate because of the grace God gives me.

God-compassion-forgiveness

Reading Chapter 31 of Jeremiah, I wondered what God is writing in my heart now. Where is God inviting me to look beneath or beyond actions to see the need for understanding and compassion?

What is God writing on your heart?

What we hear

In the early days of our friendship, Ted asked me to go out for dinner. The conversation went something like this:

“You probably don’t want to…you will probably say ‘no,’ but would you like to go to dinner with me?”

“Yes,” I said.

“That’s ok,” he said. “I didn’t think you would want to.”

“Ted, I said ‘yes,’” I countered, but he could not hear me. He was so certain I would say “no” that he could not hear my “yes.”

Over the next thirty years, Ted and I had many dinners together—always as friends.

He often returned to that initial conversation, saying, “Remember when I asked you out and you said, ‘no’?” I would remind him, “I said ‘yes.’” It became something of a joke among our friends, like a scene in a pantomime, because he loved to retell the story, “I asked Madeline out once and she said ‘no.’” They would say, “She said ‘yes.’”

That memory came back to me the other day when I was thinking about how open I am to hear God. I wonder if I predisposed to hear a message that may not be the message God is sending or if I shut down before something has a chance to take root. I sometimes wonder if I am exasperating God with all the times I say, “yes, but…” in the same way Ted’s retelling of our first-date conversation could exasperate me.

I know I can jump to a conclusion that shuts God out of the process, perhaps because of negative messages I have heard about what I can and cannot do, my low self-esteem, fears, anxieties, past failures, etc.

God asks us to try and try again, even when we don’t succeed at first or second or third. God asks for persistence (like the story of the widow who kept pestering the judge in Luke 18:1-8) and openness (let those who have ears hear, Matthew 11:15) to hear what God is saying.

Often these blockages are blind spots—we don’t even see them. What can help us become aware of our blind spots is to listen to what others might see in us and say about us.

Those conversations can be difficult to have. I remember the first time someone tried to tell me I was smart and capable. I thanked him, but he could tell I did not believe him, so he repeated it. “I heard you,” I said. “No, you didn’t,” he replied, and then he told me again that I was smart and capable. He could see my discomfort, because smart and capable were not words I associated with myself.

That conversation was the beginning of my questioning what I believed about myself and trying to see myself as God sees me.

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I don’t know how Ted and I would have gotten on romantically (mutual friends suggest we would have had a rocky relationship because we were both independent and strong-willed), but we never had the chance to try.

Old friends far away

A few years ago, a friend sent me Gail Caldwell’s book, Let’s Take the Long Way Home, the story of a friendship between two women. This same friend later suggested I read Two Old Women by Velma Wallis, a legend Wallis heard as a child. I pointed out to my friend that I notice a theme in her book selections—friendships between two women. She responded that she is grateful for our friendship, which began in 1975.

Another friend recently sent me this quote from Henri Nouwen.

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And then last week, I heard an interview with two women about their podcast on friendship.

Friendship is a theme—and it has me thinking about my friendships and how blessed I am.

A friend once told me he thought a shared history was the most important thing in friendship. He had lots of friends from his elementary school days, and even though they had developed different interests as they aged, they maintained their friendships because of their shared school history.

My experience was different than that; I moved away after high school and lost touch with most of the people from my school years.

In my mid-thirties, I became friends with a woman who lived in the forensic unit of the local state hospital. Visiting hours were Thursday afternoons from 2:00-4:00, and I went every week for the first hour.

About a month or so into these visits, I remember thinking how rare it was to spend an hour with someone once a week—an hour with no distractions and no activities. I was not allowed to bring anything in—no games or books or food—so we sat face to face and talked.

Those visits came back to me recently when I was talking to a friend in Ireland. Pre-pandemic, our chats might last an hour, but this call went on for more than two hours.

Conversations with other friends are similar—long, leisurely catch-ups. No distractions, no interruptions—just the two of us connected over the phone or computer.

It is a gift of the pandemic, this opportunity to be totally present to another for extended periods of time.

This time of isolation has also given me the opportunity to ponder friendships that have ended.

Twenty-five years ago, a good friend and I had a difference of opinion that created a deep rift between us. Early on, there were some attempts at reconciling, but those attempts failed, and we eventually gave up trying. This person was very important to me during a particularly difficult period in my life, and I still miss her.

That is the thing about true friendship—it touches our hearts and reshapes us in a way that cannot be undone.

I feel similarly about my friends who have died— I am still changed by them, even though they are no longer physically present in my life.

How are you connecting with friends during this time of isolation? How have friends touched you and changed your life?

Reflections from a day of kayaking

Two friends invited me to go kayaking on the Thornapple River in central Michigan, and I gladly accepted.

Kayaking is one of my favorite outdoor activities because it offers an easy way to be on the water surrounded by nature. Kayaking requires minimal strength, and on the Thornapple River, the current did most of the work. We had to steer around some fallen trees and other debris, but the water was relatively calm and the trip downriver peaceful.

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Photo from Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy

Nature gifted us with sightings of deer along the riverbank and herons standing in the water. There were more turtles than I could count, lounging on fallen logs along the river’s edge.  

Being carried along by the current, I rested my paddle and looked up into the canopy created by the trees. Although mostly green, a few had started to change to fall colors and some leaves even fell into the kayak along the way.

I remembered a meditation about trees and how they change every season without resistance.

They seem to trust that even though their leaves are dying now and they will be dormant over winter, in the spring, new leaves will bud and grow to cover them again. Every year the cycle repeats itself, and the trees move naturally through the cycle. They don’t resist the changes—the death of autumn or the new growth of spring. They just do what trees do, living the cycles of their lives.

Be the tree, I said to myself. Let go of what needs to die and trust that something new will grow in spring.

When I lowered my eyes and looked at the trees at water level, I realized that the riverbank had eroded, and the roots of most of the trees were exposed. I wondered if that exposure weakens the trees and makes them more vulnerable.

The words of St. Paul came to me: When I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:10).

Be the tree, I said to myself again. Let your roots be exposed and risk vulnerability.

Yes, I thought, I want to be like trees and let go easily. I want to accept the changes of life as they come and move gracefully through each season. I want to let my vulnerabilities show, to be less certain and more open, less fearful and more trusting.

A little further down the river, I had the opportunity to lean into my vulnerability—I fell into the water in a less than dignified way. I was not hurt—just drenched. And like the time I had to climb a tree to get over a barbed-wire fence in England three years ago, I was grateful no one was videotaping the escapade.

Letting go of my pride and laughing at myself moves me along the path to humility, the path of accepting my vulnerability. Those few minutes of embarrassment were part of the hours of peaceful contentment kayaking down the river, helping me be the tree and embrace whatever comes.

Where there is injury, pardon

God-vulnerability-forgiveness

My pastor gave me a copy of the Prayer of St. Francis when I went to the Sacrament of Reconciliation during Advent, and I have been praying it every day since. The words that jump out at me almost every day are: Where there is injury, pardon.

Why those words? I ask God, and what does injury mean?

I usually think of injuries as resulting from accidents—wounds that need stitches, casts or surgeries. But what kind of injuries need pardon? In St. Francis’ day the word probably had a different connotation.

As I pray these words every day, I ponder injuries. I tried replacing the word injury with other words to see if it makes more sense to me—sin, hurt, harm, betrayal, etc.—what would warrant pardon?

And is pardon synonymous with forgiveness?

Perhaps it was this prayer that predisposed me to ponder forgiveness this Lent.

I struggle with forgiveness for several reasons, and perhaps the biggest is my fear of looking foolish. I can hear my father’s voice in my head discouraging me from being taken advantage of and encouraging me to stand my ground. It was important to him not to look weak and he was slow to forgive those who had crossed him. To him, forgiving equaled vulnerability and weakness.

Vulnerability was not something he valued.

It took me a long time—and a fair amount of prodding by God—to consider vulnerability as something valuable, something desirable.

I once befriended a women who had committed a horrific crime. She was vilified and hated in our community. The newspapers and television media portrayed her as a monster.

But God placed her on my heart, and I could not stop thinking about her—and feeling compassion for her. It was as if God was showing me how God saw her—not the monster she was portrayed in the news, but as a person who, no matter what she had done, was still a child of God.

Not many people knew about my visits to her in prison or of our friendship. Sometimes, the things God asks of me seem outrageous even to me.

This particular friendship has been resurfacing this Lent. She was a woman who needed pardon, forgiveness and acceptance.

Perhaps she has been coming to mind because of all the mass shootings in our country. My friend had a history of mental illness and a record of multiple hospitalizations related to her mental illness. Yet she was able to walk into a store and buy a gun. No questions asked. No thought to why she wanted a gun or what she might do with it. No concerns that she would walk into the mall and open fire.

Or perhaps she has been coming to mind because she taught me so much about vulnerability and forgiveness.

I suppose God has been nudging me toward acknowledging my vulnerability for a long time, teaching me that embracing my own vulnerability puts me on the path to pardon.

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Does it bring you joy?

Does it bring you joy? Someone suggested asking this question when paring down my possessions.

After some pondering, I realized that when considering holding onto or getting rid of some possession, I am more apt to ask myself, would letting it go make me feel guilty?

I have been incredibly blessed by generous people throughout my life, and my house has lots of objects I received as gifts. I imagine if I had bought all of those things, it would be easier to let go of them, but so much of what I own has a story and a memory connected to it.

Is it possible to hold onto the memory and the story—and let go of the object?God-spirituality-joyMany years ago, I read a book about holding onto the gifts of retreat.

Retreats can be sacred moments in life, creating space to step out of daily routines, clear my mind of everyday worries, and focus on God and God’s will for me. Retreats offer the opportunity to get some distance and perspective, to look at how I am living and to consider any needed course corrections.

While on retreat, I often talk with God about what in my life needs to go—usually old fears, insecurities, anxieties and hurts.God-spirituality-joyHolding onto those insights from retreat once I am back in my daily routine can be a challenge. Daily prayer helps. Regular meetings with a spiritual director also help. This book suggested asking these questions about everyday situations:

  • Is this what I really want?
  • Will this matter tomorrow? In ten years? At the end of my life?
  • What do I think? feel? need? want?

The second set of questions has been the easiest for me to answer because I can see how insignificant many everyday occurrences really are. These questions have helped me let go of a great deal of hurt and anger. How much energy am I going to give to something that really has very little long-term significance?

The other questions, though, continue to challenge me. Like the question about what brings me joy, asking what I want or need seems somewhat foreign to me. It must be the way I was raised—spend very little time or thought on my own needs; focus more on the needs of others.  This is also the message I take from the Bible.

Of course, I know that I do have wants and needs, and over the course of my life, I have come to see how much healthier I am when I get in touch with them.

So, what is it that brings me joy? The objects in my home? Or the memories attached to them?

It is definitely the memories that remind me how blessed I have been.

Last year, I committed to writing a “love” letter every day in February—a note to someone who had blessed my life and brought me joy. I called it twenty-eight days of love. I thank I will do that again.God-spirituality-joy

 

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I love you more than…

I love you more than you will ever know.

Those were among the final words my friend Ted spoke to me when we were together just before he died from esophageal cancer two years ago.

I told him that I knew how much he loved me, and I believed I had a pretty good idea; we had been good friends for more than thirty years. During his illness, we spoke every day, sometimes two or three times. I knew he loved me.God-friends-cancerMy friend Lisa recently told me of the death of one of her guy friends. She was devastated by this loss and inconsolable in her grief.

Good guy friends are great gifts. They are also not all that common—which makes them even more precious.

My friend Jim used to tell me that he believed I had good friendships with men because I grew up with brothers (one older and one younger). He believed that growing up with brothers taught me to accept both the gangster and the vulnerable sides of a guy.God-friends-cancerI would agree and add, “My brothers taught me to have realistic expectations of men.”

One of the relationships I kept up after I left the FBI was with an agent named Bob Hickey—formally known as Robert J. Hickey, Jr. For ten years after I left the Bureau, Bob and I got together regularly, even though he lived in Washington, D.C., and I was in Philadelphia. Our friendship was important to both of us, and we dedicated time and energy to keeping it alive.

Bob encouraged me in my running, and we often ran the Mall in D.C.  I remember a run on one of his visits to Philadelphia; I wanted to quit, and he kept urging me to go on. The run ended at a bridge over a railroad track, and running up that hill seemed impossible. “It’ll build character,” Bob prodded, which was just the dare I needed to dig deep for the last burst of energy. It is also a line that has inspired me when I have faced other challenges.God-friends-cancerThen I moved to Canada, and Bob married a woman who seemed a tad bit jealous of our friendship. I tried to reassure her that while I loved Bob dearly, I did not want to marry him, and that I was happy for them. But, things were different after he got married.

Bob loved all things Irish—music, dance, literature—and he loved to visit his relatives in Ireland. The last time we spoke, I was planning my trip to Ireland in August. He was happy for me.

Bob died last summer. Since learning of his death, I have been recalling wonderful memories of our friendship, and I am filled with a deep sense of gratitude. Just thinking of him makes me smile. Like Ted, Jim and the other men who have blessed my life, his friendship brought me great joy.

I love you more than you will ever know.God-friends-cancer

 

Woe is me.com

Woe is me.com, my friend Ted dubbed this blog—wicked sense of humor. For Ted’s tastes, my posts are too personal, too revealing. Privacy mattered to Ted.

Ted and I met when I worked at the law school he attended. Our paths diverged a few years later, but our friendship withstood the distance, and for the past thirty-one years, we have been good friends, traveling companions and confidants.

He went on to become a successful lawyer and retired when he was thirty-eight to pursue his passion of owning a bookstore. Ted loved books.

When we both lived in Philadelphia, we regularly had dinner together. When we lived apart, our communication was mostly via the phone, and we chatted at least once a week.

He was a staunch Catholic who had a deep devotion to the Blessed Mother. He loved his family and put them ahead of everything else. He was smart, loyal and generous.

I learned a lot from Ted—about myself, my faith, family and the world.

We seemed to look at life through different lenses, and in the early years, our differences caused some issues. Over time, though, I saw that our different perspectives helped me to clarify my beliefs and become stronger and more confident. His challenging questions made me a better person.

Ted helped me to see my work in the nonprofit world as giving people an opportunity to be generous, an outlook that has kept me mission-focused. He was one of my biggest champions, and I can trace my leadership skills directly to Ted’s tutelage.

Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo was a favorite of Ted’s, and we once met up in San Francisco to visit the places where it was filmed. We stayed at the York Hotel and connected with the film through stops at all the sites—from Muir Woods to the Golden Gate Park to the Mission San Juan Bautista.

San Juan Bautista

Other trips took us to such places as Orlando, New Orleans and Rome, Italy.

Last summer, we started planning a pilgrimage to the Southern California missions. We had already been to the missions around San Francisco, and Ted wanted to visit the rest. He thought March would be a good time. His bucket list also included the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC, and a return trip to Italy.

Ted died last Sunday from esophageal cancer; we buried him on Friday. His four sisters had given him excellent care and his death was on his terms—at home and surrounded by family.

Woe is me. My heart is broken. I am bereft. No more phone calls. No more visits. No more direction or guidance. No more advice or assistance. No more challenging questions.

After so many years of this close friendship, the question that keeps running through my mind is, Who am I without Ted in my life?

While I don’t know the answer, I do know that Ted enriched my life more than I could have imagined. I have been blessed and I am deeply grateful.