Tag Archives: vulnerabi

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.


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?

Be present

Be holy (Leviticus 19:2)

Those two words from Leviticus—be holy—caught my attention when I read them during my morning prayer and then heard them at Mass.

Be holy.

I asked myself what I need to do to be holy.

And there is the rub. God is saying be and I am thinking do.

It is a familiar trap for me because I am much better at doing than I am at being.

Give me a task that needs to get done, some project that requires attention or a problem to be solved, and I will jump right in.

But just being? Well, I am not so good at that.

It was one of my biggest challenges when I lived in l’Arche, a Christian community where people with and without developmental disabilities live together. The invitation of l’Arche is to be and being is more highly valued than doing. Living in l’Arche was the beginning of my intentional practice of being.

I have gotten better at it, but obviously, I still have a way to go because I read and heard be and asked what I need to do.

Then I thought of the people I know whom I think of as holy and considered what it is about them that makes them holy.

It occurred to me that all the people I think of as holy are good at being present to the people who are right in front of them. It is not that they don’t make plans, because they do, but their primary focus is on the now. They focus on each person as an individual, and they see the humanity in every person.

One friend texted me the other day that she thinks of people as mosaics made up of broken pieces, some pieces weaker and more likely to break again; other pieces are made stronger by whatever glue binds them.

That honors each person. It doesn’t deny weakness or faults but sees beyond character traits to a more holistic picture of the person. She isn’t trying to fix people; she is trying to be present to them. That is holy.

At the customer service counter in the grocery store the other day, the cashier vented to another store employee about a customer who “went off” on her because the cashier had taken a phone call. The cashier was upset and lamented how angry people are. It was an unholy encounter, full of hurt and anger. I stood and listened, trying to be present to the cashier in her distress.

When she turned to me, it seemed she might have been expecting that I, too, would “go off” on her because I had been waiting while she vented.

“I’m not angry,” I said. “It is a beautiful, sunny day and I am in no rush to go anywhere. Take your time.”

She breathed out and smiled.

“Just be present to the person in front of you,” I said to myself “and that will be holy.”