When you are 60 years old or so, it’s not surprising that you might have friendships going back 27 years or more. Not surprising but no less remarkable, especially given how we come and go these days, following this job, that opportunity (for love, for adventure), wandering far from our childhood stomping ground, many of us . . . and probably most of us.
Last night I went up to Berea, where we lived from 1986-1991, to see my good friends Keila, Barbara, and Peggy. Dorothy joined us for dinner, but the over-night was just the four of us. It was in Berea that I found my first real job–real in the sense that it and I fit each other, grew and evolved into each other–it’s the job that taught me that teaching in a college or university was the best place for me to do whatever worthwhile thing I might be able to do, and that the doctorate was my ticket. It’s the place where our two oldest boys grew from 2 and 3 to the ripe old age of 7 and 8 (don’t worry about the math) and our youngest boy Casey was born, in 1987.
I found my best friends there, a new consciousness, community, love. I wrote a couple of poems that I’m still rather fond of, and one of which is about these boys and this growing, shedding old skin and learning to move in the new body. So I’ll share a part of “Cicada” here:
This transformation takes seven years, they say.
Right now my oldest heads down the homestretch
to his seventh birthday
and I wonder what’s in store for him,
what growing pains first grade will bring.
Seven years ago I began a marriage,
took it upon myself to offer the world two lives,
ended the marriage began another,
ended a job and began anew,
offered the world another life,
said, “Here, I trust you to care for these
they are mine I would not have them destroyed.”
Already I feel an itching at my shoulder blades
where I can’t quite reach the scaly skin
though I can just make out the v-shape through the steam
where my rubbing in the bathroom mirror
has left a filmy reflection.
Any day now I shall lay myself down
pull my body into its tightening shell,
trusting the stillness to remain free
from inquisitive hands
so I can let these wings unfold and dry
before I leap into that startling void.
I hope I will soar. I hope I will sing.
I hope I will meet up with other cicadas,
our wings a crackling testament to our joy.
But that’s not what I started this post about, though there may be a connection. I wanted to say something about friendship, the deep knowing we four friends share—about our frailties, our strengths, our histories. How the four of us want to grasp this thing we’ve got and honor it until we can no more. All of us professors, world travelers, authors, activists, one a Fullbright Scholar, 3 of us mothers and grandmothers, one an Episcopal priest now, two of us survivors of dead sons and a hundred other heartbreaks. Two still live in that town where we met and found each other (one lives in the country outside of town), the third lives now about 30 minutes away, and me, the furthest off, but still here in Kentucky, just a couple of hours down the Cumberland Parkway–I’ve contemplated chewing my fingers off in committee meetings as long as it took me to drive from here to there, a ride that gives you a series of hills touched by green and flowering trees and enough time to listen to a CD or two. On the way there, your mind rehashes the business of work till you shake it off finally. But on the way back you think how you are going to make your home a little better, having shared 15 hours with your friends and seeing, remembering them, yourself, listening, laughing. All the angst and frustration of work are just tempests in cracked teapots compared to what that kind of friendship means.
So here they are, my beautiful friends…..Keila, Barbara, Peggy . . .
And the four of us . . . Sweet!