I remember when I was pregnant and nearing the end of it, I’d always have a moment in the grocery store when I bought something with an expiration date after my due date. It was always a scary realization, knowing that the milk or yogurt could potentially last longer than the inside kicks I was feeling.
I keep doing that retroactively lately with so many things around my own home. The huge bag of bulk brown rice I bought at Costco? I had no idea when I bought it that I’d be divorced when we reached the bottom of the bag. I had no idea when we bought this dream home that life events would force me to sell it before we even put down real roots. I had no idea when we adopted our lab 8 years ago that he’d follow me to a new chapter alone with two children while my husband began his own new life with a woman ten years younger than I am.
But as another thing that outlasted my marriage, I also vastly underestimated the role of friendship in my life. Over the holidays, I had dinner with a friend who only knows me from my work life years ago, and I was in a bad place of fear and confusion and self-pity, and I remember saying that I felt like nobody even knew me outside of my husband. No one sees me as a separate being. But in reality, I’m learning that nothing is farther from that truth. Even when I didn’t see my own self in the mirror very much and I only saw a wife, others were seeing the real me tucked away inside.
Lately, not a single day goes by that I don’t receive a call or a text or an email from someone close to me. Someone who graciously continues to think of me and check in and give me words of encouragement. As word has leaked out on social media, something I feared for a long time, I have been so surprised at the people who have reached out with some really specific and genuine words in my time of shaky ground. Graduate school classmates I’ve hardly talked to much in the last 8 years, former teachers, former students, so many I forgot that I’d once been closely connected to.
I dreaded telling our neighbors for quite some time. I don’t even know why. It’s just such an awesome neighborhood as I’ve mentioned before, and I’m sad to leave it. But it’s also ALL married families with children here. And everything always looks so pristine on the outside when you are looking in. It’s intimidating to let someone know that yours doesn’t match. (I think we all know what I mean with that feeling.)
So finally last week, I had to tell them the day before the “for sale” sign emerged in our yard. I emailed the three I am closest to with very few details and a lot of tears, and what happened? They rallied and sent such words of encouragement and invited themselves to keep me company last Wednesday evening, sneaking over after kids were asleep with bottles of wine and gifts and food. My only contribution was s’mores dip and a lot of conversation.
There is a line in Almost Famous (anyone else love that movie?) where Phillip Seymour Hoffman says to the young protagonist that “The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool.” I’m learning that lesson in all of this. Every time I open up and share the real vulnerability, the real pain or sadness or confusion or whatever overflows, the result is real currency, so to speak, real friendship.
It’s such a lesson for me, and for all of us I think, to be genuine and real and stop the game of pretending we don’t have worries or sadness or doubt or fear. This problem is worsening with Facebook and Instagram and blogs and every other avenue for posting polished photos and catchy captions. Let’s be real, for once. Say what bothers you, say what you need from a friend, say what you need from your own self. Express your sadness and doubt and fear and disappointment. So much good happens when we finally just say it.
I’m so grateful for friends and real conversation and relationships that span time and distance and reach out to comfort us when we need it. Life is funny. I’ve connected with a lot of people, at times closely or intensely, and then you move forward and time separates you. You forget you had that connection once, and yet if we are willing to put ourselves out there, it can still shine through unexpectedly when you most need it. And at this time in my life, when I am feeling so doubtful and less steady than ever, it soothes and encourages me more than I can express to hear someone say that I have what it takes to move forward and begin this new chapter for myself and my kids alone.
So to any of you – if you are reading here though I know many of them don’t – but if you are reading this and you sent an email, a text message, a card in the mail. If you listened to me cry on the phone, if you sat across from me at lunch or dinner or over coffee and listened to my rambling as I worked through the hard weeks and hard moments. Thank you. Thank you for seeing me as I really am and looking beyond the mess to exchange real currency, so to speak. It’s been a life raft for me, and I’m still clinging.
And I’m promising to become a more fearless friend in the future as well. I think we sometimes fear being too connected with others, judged as too forward. We might hear that someone is in a rough patch, or likewise hear about something good in her life, and stop ourselves from reaching out to comfort or encourage or congratulate. But having been on this end of the equation, I see how much it means. Putting yourself out there with a quick note or comment or call – even if it’s been years since you’ve seen the person – it feeds the soul in a way nothing else does. I’m vowing to put some of my own encouragement outward again and really observe and listen, in the truest way I can.