I have lived in the mountain community of Asheville, NC for almost one full year. The year has been a wonderful transition from full time work in my sales and marketing career of 30+ years to retired. I’m still working on the retirement “thing” because it takes time to go from a full roaring engine to what some days feels like a puttering generator.
What this year has given me is time to slow down, to stop in for a cup of coffee any time during the day, to shop for special cookies in a many of the unique local bakeries, to taking rides on the Blue Ridge Parkway with the convertible top down – raking in the breeze and sunlight; to mellow times to read or take up my writing again.
During the way, I have bonded with several women in our apartment complex - I see them somewhat regularly, but not so regularly to call them family. Yet, they have truly become girlfriends.
What a myriad of personalities, hair color, sizes and shapes we are, but we are all mothers, sisters, daughters, aunts, and in some cases wives or significant others. We are baby boomers with the mindset of millennials – searching for what feels good and right in our lives.
Heartache has visited most of us through the death of a loved one, a divorce, a betrayal, less than hearty retirement investment accounts and some physical aches and pains.
Often we find ourselves gathered around one another while sunning and swimming at our community pool. We admire each other’s bathing suits and sun hats. We peel out laughter when one of us breaks into the water, somewhat lacking athletic skills as we swim laps. We each bring our cell phone or IPad so that we can share pictures of children and grandchildren, beautiful flowers, the mountainside, local events that have been advertised and even, recipes. We are girlfriends and all this matters in small smatterings called life.
In just three short weeks, I will be moving out of state. Another of our group has built a house and will be moving out of our complex. Another is waiting for a subsidized apartment that will permit her to walk all around the city, popping in and out for tea or the local downtown library. The other three will likely stay in the complex for the time being. It just seems to fit them well, but there is no guarantee with the changes life brings about that it will last forever. We age, our children move away, rent goes up beyond what makes financial sense, the community shifts and everyday life looks and feels differently.
But we have each other’s phone numbers, e-mail addresses, have connected on Facebook and can Messenger at any time.
We may lose proximity to one another daily, but we have no reason to not stay connected. Keeping in touch and showing that you care for one another is the very core of friendships among women.
We will look a bit different in a few years, but you will always be able to recognize the smile in our eyes and on the lips…. Girlfriends. Women who have shared one another’s lives. People who have cared for others their entire life and won’t forget you as you journey on. It’s just what women do.
Over two decades ago I met with a highly accomplished business woman in my local community. She had agreed to visit with me as I mentioned how much I respected and appreciated her work and wanted to ask for her guidance. I imagined she would see my bright light, my uniqueness, my personal brand and help me shine it forward.
I still get red faced as I look back on the meeting. She kept looking at me, a beautiful slightly sideswiped smile, waiting for me to catch fire with why I asked for her time.
But nothing really happened, because I had become self-conscious when I sat in her office with all the images of her success around us. I realized I really did not have much to share… I was just a hard working career girl with a desire to climb the ladder of success. And, I had not prepared for the meeting like any successful professional would. I had dumbed down and went blindly into her office never really sharing my desire for her guidance or to take any of her ideas to heart.
I hadn’t been prepared or willing to learn from her because I wasn’t ready to give up my style or own habits. She realized it too, so while she was warm and engaging, she kept her eye on the clock and her mind on what she had to do when I left.
Oh, how I wish I had that time with her back. I know I would do better today. Of course I would, I have gathered some wisdom along the way.
Recently, I had an opportunity for small restitution. A young woman I had worked with in my last job sent me an e-mail. It had a humorous slant on how she had gone by my office to get some advice about a tense situation that had just occurred at work. She said… “But your office was empty because you no longer work here!”
We went back and forth by e-mail throughout the day. She had quit her job. She was sad because she loved her work and most of the people in the office, but she had stubbed her toe with the key decision maker and he had not played fairly. She hadn’t prepared well for the meeting that resulted in her resignation.
My friend is much younger than me, but the age difference has not diminished our relationship. I became the wise business woman I had sat with over two decades before.
I recalled several discussions we had had over the past year where I coached and counseled her. He style was abrupt and she didn’t always think through her plans of action. She agreed, but indicated that she was “just who she is and she was going to be successful because of her skills and talents.” The challenge was her skills and talents were not yet well-honed and she wasn’t willing to buffer her approach to others. She expected others to see her “uniqueness” and give her wide berth to do her job the way she wanted to.
My young friend has a new job, but more importantly she now has real-life wisdom to put in her tool box. She will be red- faced for a while over the outcome from her poorly aligned approach to her superior.
Our friendship has been strengthened. I was here for a friend just as other women have been for me for many years.
I have wonderful friendships with many men who have stood by me over the years as well, but there is no real replacement for the instincts, knowledge base, or experience that comes with sharing woman-to-woman. There is a different tenor to the tone. Woman wisdom comes from within the soul and spirit.
I love the saying, “it is better to give than receive.” I think I may have just proven that saying to be true!
I recently chatted with a woman I have never met before while waiting for a set of x-rays at the Doctor’s office. Onex-ray for me and one for her. I was dealing with a cranky knee that acted up during a weight training routine. My new friend didn’t divulge what her x-ray was for and I didn’t ask. It really didn’t matter. After all, if you meet someone in the lobby of the dentist, you don’t discuss if you are having work done on a molar or bicuspid. It’s meaningless information.
The day was wrapped up in magnificent fall colors in Asheville, North Carolina, my new home of 7 weeks. Our conversation led to all the challenges my new confidant was experiencing in her role as caretaker of an elderly mother, who; other than bending and fragile bones, is still a force to contend with.
My conversation partner indicated her Mother is of sound mind, keen on facts, but finds medications and tests for what ails her, a mundane, unpleasant routine. The unpleasant routine falls to the daughter to manage and explain. Conversation skills between the two have been amped up in this later journey of the mother’s life. It’s just not easy to explain to a person why they “must” do something when they don’t really understand what the why means. The ironic part of these conversations is that the daughter clearly remembers many times her mother told her “you must” do something when she was growing up. It seems they have simply traded places in the mother-daughter discussion.
The stories about women and their aging mothers are often the same. We care for them because they can’t. We want to assure their dignity and financial security. My Mother is no longer living and I wonder how well I did at these discussions as her life came to an end. I don’t think I got very high marks on patience and understanding. I trust my Mother forgives me as I haven’t yet forgiven myself.
Our voices met a smooth, balanced cadence as she shared with me her annual challenge of selecting and securing the best Medicare Supplement plan for her mother. She spoke of spreadsheets, coverage analysis and budget forecasting. Somehow the words didn’t match up with what have traditionally been regular mother-daughter activities, but the importance of the work out paced any romantic visions of selecting the latest fashionable clothes, shopping for the most modern shoes and oohing and aahing over jewelry to adorn the ears, neck, wrist or hand.
We found ourselves aggravated for the amount of time we had to wait to be called for our x-rays, but as much: we wanted to continue our dialogue. We certainly did not have enough time to make friends and bond for the years to come, but we had time to listen to one another and care. The caring part was the best of the time we spent.
Later in the afternoon, I took a walk around a local lake and bird sanctuary and noticed scenes that brought back to mind our conversation. Changing colors in the leaves reminded me of the dimming hair color from youth to a mature age. I saw tree limbs that seem like bones, a bit thin, but sturdy. I touched flowers that were popping up between grass and plants that were edging their way out of summer into fall. My vision filled my mind with the depth of our discussion about mothers.
Many of us are on a journey from children and adults to our mother’s servant. It’s as natural journey as the walk I took around the lake and through the bird sanctuary. The beauty was similar, if not exactly the same.
In many ways, relationships between mothers and daughters are like girlhood friendships. Toss in a few giggles, looks of tenderness mixed with anxiety or annoyance and bone marrow honesty and the sameness fills our hearts. Lovely. Thank you my new friend for sharing. I learned how to be a better mother, sister, aunt, colleague and friend from your lesson. No test required.
There is something absolutely magical about a gathering of friends. Magical is not an imaginary word because you just have to feel… feel the presence of women clustered around a table, a cup of coffee, tea or wine in their hands… eyes searching and showing understanding for every spilled word, giving out vibes of connectivity. Like I said magical.
I recently attended an awards ceremony where I was a nominee for recognition. Seven women, several who were new in my circle of friends, joined me for the celebration. We agreed that if I lost, they would all say “how could that happen, you are surely the best.” If I won, they would say in unison: “Yeah – well deserved wonderful friend.”
Well I did not win, but the celebration carried over through dessert and shaking hands with the woman who did win the award. “Well-deserved” we said to her. “We are so glad we could be here this evening to share this excitement with other talented women. This is awesome!”
As we sat around the table and the evening was wrapping up, I realized how lucky I am to have friends who can relate to my experiences, to the things that happen around and to me, that feel what I feel.
Friendships just don’t happen overnight. It takes time to get to know one another, to trust, to appreciate and to honor. Some of my friends that evening have known me for several years, others just a few months, but if you did not know the details; you would think we have been connected as this amazing band of women for eons. Eons is a very long time and I cherish the thought that our friendships will live on for eons, but for now: tonight was lovely. Not just for me, but for all of us.
Friendships are like a wonderful, warm, silk-like journey that strengthens the bones, the heart and lungs, the spirit and the soul. Friendships among women are life giving. Here’s to life!
From my diary, 1996.
There is a soulful, melancholy fragrance that surrounds the meaning of friendship, whether it is a casual acquaintance or an intimate experience. We often can recall the way a friend looked, the tone of their voice. We may remember something “different” such as our friend’s race, height, weight, or a disability, – any distinguishing characteristic that set them apart. These memories are like old snapshots with age worn around the edge. They may bring a smile to our face or a tear to our eyes. Friendship. A feeling deeper than the core of the earth, yet more fragile than the shell of an egg.
In my years of talking with women, I have found them to be both remorseful and resourceful….like maternal twins – alike and yet so different. They may have been silent about friendships that ripened like a bad piece of fruit, holding themselves out as responsible. But, once they began to open up, to share and to relinquish their guilt, they were free to form new friendships, bonds of joy and giving….giving back to more rather than to less. It is the opening up, the sharing that frees them to be better in whatever role they have assumed, wife, mother, sister, lover, caregiver…….woman.
Forming healthy friendships seems to get easier for us as we grow wise with age. We did not seem to be well equipped as children to always make good decisions in forming friendships. We wanted and hoped and wished, holding our breath – anxious for the small joys that friendship brings. And, many times the selfish acts played out between friends came about because of the desire to have – to belong to – simple wishings in a complex world.
In our youthful innocence we took no responsibility for acts of selfishness toward friends. We learn later that these acts may have far reaching consequences, even surfacing as character flaws. We hold these childhood experiences inside for fear others will know we took part in such an act. This is unhealthy, yet it is so natural for women to carry their burdens privately. We fail to recognize there is no reason to feel lingering shame for an act that was from a child’s mind, a child’s level of reasoning. We gain inner strength when we can reach inside ourselves and acknowledge the adults we have become and let go of the shame.
I had such experiences as a young girl. I kept material things from a girl friend because I had so little and I didn’t want to give up even one piece of the little I had, but as I look back on it; I would have had even more if I had shared.
Letting go permits us to form new friendships that are richer, friendships that are woven from the tapestries of experience. And when this occurs it becomes a beautiful and joyous gift we give ourselves and others.
Through life’s passages, we find healing by talking with friends about incidents that have lingered in our mind- soulful, sad, despairing times of our past. We seek out new friends, ones that are resilient and will help us search our soul for answers. This is not easy to do because we fear a friend will turn away in disgust, asking themselves “How could she have done such a thing?” – Whatever that thing may be. This is a temporary fear because we find that once our hearts begin to open with our story; our friends have one to offer in return. Our world is not clean of sins, nor is the lives of our friends. Many of their turns in life are no different than ours; they simply come packaged with different names and dates.
We can rejoice in knowing our childhood act did not doom us, label us unfit for new friendships. This is another of life’s passages we will travel before we close our diaries. There will be no need to turn the key on the lock of our diaries, because, while they may be sacred, they are not filled with hopeless despair. It is a the way of a woman to remember and to forgive from the heart.
I recently volunteered at a local non-profit where the average annual income of the families is at or below the poverty level. I feel right at home.
In fact, when I was a child, very few people seemed to notice the poor kids at church or school. We just all blended together in one way or another We were just ordinary kids with ordinary thigns. I just had less of what was ordinary.
I worked in the food serving line at school to earn the free lunch. It was easier than going without.
A local church paid for my rental of a school instrument so that I could play in the school band. I can’t recall why I picked out the accordion, but I think it was because there was a wonderful glass button that glittered like a diamond. Every time my finger glided over that button, I felt special.
I used the school library every week as there weren’t any public libraries near our home. My mother used to buy old Readers Digest books at .25 a piece, cutting out the blank pages to make a writing journal for me. I wrote poems. I diaried. I wrote stories and jotted down funny incidents to use in our local school newspaper. I wrote notes to my girl friends. I wrote and wrote and wrote.
I thought I was surely going to die an early death of low dignity, but today; I relish in the hard times because I came of out poverty to pearls and a few other glittering stones.
Money didn’t buy me out of the neighborhood, words did. I learned how to enunciate beautifully, spell impeccably and draw others into conversation through the magic of my words. Yes, I was and still am a girl Einstein of words. Words are my best friends.
I string words together more delicately than when my sister spelled out my name in an alphabet bracelet… all glittery with small blue and silver stones.
I am a new blogger, but I am not new to the magic of words. I have written and published two books. A third is in the wings and will be ready for publication soon. Soon doesn’t really seem to do the book justice. After all, the journey took almost five years. While I was good at writing the words, I needed to watch my story form so that I others could embrace my message. Writing the book was a journey of discovery.
Soon, I will share my book with you and of course, I hope you will be as drawn to the story as I am. But that’s enough for now. Let’s just focus on getting to know one another as writers, mothers, sisters, aunts, nieces, wives and friends. That will be amazing enough.
Over two years ago I lost one of my best friends to cancer. I had already lost both my parents and a husband to cancer so I should have been in the groove with the disease, but the loss of my friend had little to do with the big C, it was much more. It was a loss of her and a little of me at the same time.
My friendship with this amazing woman came at the middle of my adult years. I had already experienced many other friendships before her but they were less deep, satisfying or real.
Getting to know and appreciate her was like a new beginning – like the first string of yarn you double to stitch a sweater, so much like the first bite of a green apple when you only favored red apples your whole life.
I pondered why this overwhelming feeling of loss came about and my only moderately good answer was because she truly was a best friend, not a pretend friend who only showed up when times were good, not just a friend when it was convenient, not just there for me when my life was glamorous (It was a very short period of time, but yes I was glamorous!), but rather a woman with real feelings; compassion, honesty, genuineness and grace.
Since that time, I have cherished family more, tolerated complacency in others a little easier, enjoyed ice cream in many different flavors and realized that my own life is as short as a chapter in a slender bound novel.
When I was a child, friendships just didn’t matter like they do now. They were like playdoh: I could always make a new imaginary friend. I had heartache from lost friendships, fractured friendships and incomplete friendships, but I never truly felt a deep and long loss.
To make her life matter more and to take this lesson to heart: I am enjoying a newly emerging friendship with three local women. We are opposites; yet so much alike. When we laugh, there is one hearty roar, a soft giggle, a hiccup like sound and mouth wide-open belly roaring laugh. We span two generations and three cultures. Some of us are light haired, others boast rich auburn hair. Make up is a friend to three, and unknown to the fourth.
Yet our life stories play out like a perfect musical score. We are just women. We have had babies, marriages, divorces, death, different jobs, bad luck, good luck and no luck. We are just women. Women friends.
My objective is to be the best friend possible to them. Someday when I die, they will feel loss; but it won’t tear them down – it will carry them on. They will remember me as in the middle of the beginning of their own lives. What a perfect ending to my own life story.
I thought friendships would begin when I was about 5 years old. Certainly I would meet the little boy next door or a girl in my Sunday school class would want to take me home like a new puppy. But I was an awkward child, so my first friend didn’t come into my life until I was 9 years old. Her name was Florence and while we were the same age , we were different colors. Florence was a warm brown tone and I was a little like a dirty blanket, white with specs of wear and tear. Our friendship wrapped us together in such a way that we never saw the differences.
We only got a jump start on our friendship since my parents moved away for a new job and Florence was being raised by her grandfather who was born and rooted in our small community. I miss Florence.
Over the years, friendships with girls and women have blossomed and wilted like an annual in the garden. I watered some and they lasted for awhile. Yet many simply withered as if in the hot sun and cold winter. Maybe I just wasn’t ready to give of myself.
I believe I could climb Mt Everest if a girlfriend would go up the mountain with me, one step at a time, encouragement after encouragement, fear upon fear. I am invincible with the help of my friends.
This is why I will fill the pages of this blog with stories that speak to the depth of friendships with girls and women. We will share our stories. We will turn them upside down, stack them sideways and roll them up and down the hills of life.
I have been writing stories and books for over three decades. Words are my friends. Girleinsteinofwords will be my voice reaching out to you… in friendship.
Gezil (Kristin) Andrews is new to blogging, but not new to writing. She first wrote a poem for her mother at age 12 and is still working hard to get the dangling participles, pronouns and adjectives in all the right places. Welcome.