Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Gift of Friendship

I have always hated to ask for help. When my husband and I first got married, I remember marveling at his willingness to walk up to any seventeen-year-old employee of a store and ask them about a product. How are these two different? How does this one work? Which do you recommend? He knew he needed answers, and while the awkward, pock-faced teenager before us was an unlikely place to receive them, he was willing to give it a try. I, on the other hand, would have rather spent hours driving back and forth to a store to return items, settling for the lesser product, or going without water for a week, than to be forced to ask anyone for insight about which shower head to put in our cart. 

I know as a child I had a natural propensity toward independence and trying things by myself, which I see actively emerging in my own children. But somewhere along the way, that instinct became a form of self-protection, an only way of doing things. I learned, as many kids do, in subtle and less-subtle ways, that weakness is bad, vulnerability is bad, uncertainty is bad. I saw all the adults around me working very hard to appear to have their lives “put together” - pressed clothes and big smiles, correct beliefs and regular church attendance, proper greetings and plenty of shallow “I’m sorry’s” - all painting a picture of happiness, of composure, of contentment and clarity. 
If someone needed help, I saw panic and a scurry to conceal. 
I didn’t know what it mean to ask for help, let alone to sit in my discomfort and vulnerability, and to receive that help with grace. And so, throughout my childhood and well into my adult life, I carried the belief that needing help was a sign of weakness and struggled to reconcile that with my deep desire for connection. So many times, I sat in a small group meeting or over coffee with a friend, and couldn’t find the words to express my need. 
I didn’t feel I had a right to ask for help. And I didn’t know if it was okay to admit I needed it.
Anne Lamott wrote, "The American way is to not need help, but to help. One of the hardest lessons I had to learn was that I was going to need a lot of help, and for a long time. What saved me was that I found gentle, loyal and hilarious companions, which is at the heart of meaning: maybe we don’t find a lot of answers to life’s tougher questions, but if we find a few true friends, that’s even better.”


I have been writing about friendship all week, and thinking about it for what feels like a lifetime. What it has been in my life, and what it hasn't. But last night I experienced friendship, for which there is absolutely no replacement or nothing closer to true bliss.

A year ago, I invited a small group of women to my house for what I hoped would become a monthly meeting of sharing meals and sharing lives. Inspired by Shauna Niequist's book, Bread and Wine, I cast the vision of carving time out of our busy lives to connect with each other, to preserve these thread of friendship in our lives while our children are young, while our careers are starting up, while our lives seems way too full to add one more thing. And thankfully, these wonderful women caught the vision and showed up.
We have only missed a month since starting a year ago. Sometimes we cook together, but mostly we eat. And always we talk and connect and give each other space to be ourselves. 

Last night, everyone met at my house for a fondue-themed evening: French cheeses and bread, chocolate and strawberries, Chardonay and Moscato. We eased into the evening, piled around the table with strings of cheese webbed out in every direction, laughter and warmth and the smell of belonging. 

The day before, I had received hard family news, which had kept me anxious all day and unable to keep down food. I knew I needed to share, and yet that old message started to pervade my thoughts, "Don't dominate the conversation. Don't make tonight about you. Don't ask for help." Three years ago I would have listened without a fight. Two years ago, I would have struggled and fought, but more often than not lost the battle. Last night I spoke up. 
I told them about my grief. I told them about my anxiety and fear. I let all eyes be on me, and admitted I didn't know.
And they each showed up. They met me in my grief and welcomed me in my uncertainty. They shared their own stories, related their own wisdom, and resisted the urge to fix, to control, to compare. They showed me that asking for help, admitting our need, is not weakness at all. They gave me the gift of friendship. 

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