and together we stacked it
for the long cold days
– Mary Oliver –
I recently had cause to think about two people I had known a lifetime ago when I was a teenager. We were all three of us new in town, and new to the school we attended. That was in a way all we had in common. One of us was a pretty redhead, I was a gangly tomboy, and the third musketeer was a dark serious girl who was studying Latin. And no, there was one more thing we had in common, we were from the first second the people who did not fit in, who got picked on. Who knew why! But we became friends. We became each other’s safe place. Twenty years later we were still friends and two of us very much in another’s lives and then it fell apart. I was the person wronged and less than a week later my friend phoned to ask my forgiveness and I would not. I have so regretted it. It took me a while to get to sanity and then I in my turn phoned to say: Sorry, I should have accepted your apology, may I do so now? But by then her position was entrenched and our friendship died. I still regret it. Regret it for both of us. We stepped off the bus too soon.
But on occasion the day trippers are such a happy thing! A decade ago, I was spending a week in Paris, I know! Doesn’t that just have such a ring?! I wanted to visit Monet’s Garden in Giverny, and I booked one of those little tours where you get collected and driven there and everything is booked and all easy peasy. The garden would be the morning with a lunch at a watermill and then Versailles in the afternoon. Off we went, a pleasant driver/guide and me and three American women. Yes, that garden was utter enchantment, it was spring, the white wisteria covered the bridge, it was magic but what surprised me so much, was the fun we had with one another. You would have thought we had all know each other for years. We giggled like schoolgirls. We talked and talked over lunch. That evening we said affectionate goodbyes and went our ways.
Then there are those who become long haulers because we don’t have much of a choice. We are tied together because we are related or because we are related to significant others. For sure they, and us, can opt out but for the most part one doesn’t. And I have come to be grateful for that. When I was young, I expected so much from others and so little of myself. But time passes, thankfully wisdom develops. Proximity and familiarity does soften our hearts and eyes. One has a shared history, shared heart ache and joys. We know where our tender spots sit and why they exist. We collectively remember parents and grandparents. And that is the payoff of being long haulers. If you get lucky, everything softens and you arrive at understanding and acceptance.
I have had two long haul friends in my life. One died more than a decade ago leaving the kind of gap that one lives around and then thankfully finds a good way to live with. Let that be a lesson to me always, good does not become bad because you have lost it. And then there came the friend I had to go to West Africa to find. We really found one another in a quiet space created by a lockdown that brought usual social activities to an abrupt halt. And because of that I not only found a friend but my way back into exercising and into the joy that swimming is for me. We swam slow lengths in the glorious olympic sized pool we had access to. One of the things I so honour in my friend is that she met me where I was when we exercised or swam together. Never made me feel I had to keep up, and that gave me the confidence to keep going. We talked side by side on the rowing machines, side by side on the treadmills, side by side in the pool and then talked some more over tea and cake!
And now my cousin Joey. She has simply always always been there. As a youngster she was as shy as I was brash. Back then I teased her and scared her with hands full of earthworms! When she was in high school and living with us, we would go to the movies. Oh, I clearly remember having been to see a vampire movie and walking home afterwards in the dark, trees rustling in the wind and how we suddenly started running like crazy people to get home! Now she is the wise woman I look up to. She looks one in the eye and says what is true. We shared a way of life that has disappeared for ever. And so we talk and remember those far off days and gone forever places and I know how lucky I have been.
My husband and I have been together now for 54 years. I am glad and absolutely amazed that we became long haulers. We were too young, we had too much emotional baggage, too few emotional resources but somehow, we kept holding on to one another. And yesterday we were swimming joyfully in an ice-cold tidal pool in a piece of wilderness and how grateful I am for the hardship and the years that have brought us exactly here.
And so, it seems clear that whether friend or family, spouse, significant other, what it rests on is always friendship and love.
We honour the value of the other person
and we honour the value of the relationship
– Donna Goddard –