Photo credit- Cup of coffee (Migle Kasinskaite )
I walked into the neighborhood Starbucks, and my line of vision caught her right away. I was immediately transported back in time, over twenty years ago. A rush of gratitude washed over me; gratitude for the initial days of friendship, gratitude for the magic of reconnection. Gratitude for the many times my dear friend agreed to meet me at Roasted Bean, because I could not get enough of that little independent coffee-house. Gratitude for all the wonderful talks we’d had, in the past…. and what I knew would be a wonderful visit today…. at the ubiquitous Starbucks.
I hadn’t seen my friend since the summer of 1998. We’ve kept in touch…. and had some long, heartfelt phone conversations, over the years….. but our last face-to-face was almost eighteen years ago. There are friendships where you’d never guess when the last meeting was….. last week, last decade, last century. These are life’s rare treasures; these relationships are a mirror that can only lead to clarity.
We hugged, then slipped right into conversation, as if we were meeting for weekly coffee. There was no small talk, no idle chatter. It went deep, straight away. Well, it went deep and reminiscent…. we couldn’t seem to help but tie the present to the past. I recounted my recent windings, we discussed her collaborative writing project, something she passionately described. She said something very interesting…. she is just now seeing herself as a writer…. I replied that I had always seen her as a writer… a woman of words. Outside of trying to coordinate our classes, where we could share at least one a semester, if at all possible, we were in a book club together, our freshman year. Kelly always chose her words very deliberately…. very thoughtfully… very rhythmically . She read and spoke with profound precision. Apparently, she didn’t see herself as a writer, then…. however, I did. I saw her as an old-soul, articulate communicator…. an artisan of words, oral and written. She thought and felt everything, thoroughly. She was one of those friends who could laugh and think…. really think… at the same time. We could bounce a facetious wordplay…. then a spiritual idea… onto an observation about a class/professor…..in rapid-fire succession. She could walk into the Pickle Barrel, and without spotting me, she knew I was there…. simply because the jukebox was trilling Chuck Mangione…. nobody she knew, she said, would fill that space with “Feels So Good”… except for me. Keen power of observation…. clearly a writer’s trait.
We recalled choosing a word, a theme, for a new year…. our first year of friendship, my word was clarity; I sought it then, I seek it now. We laughed about how one minute, I wanted clarity, the next minute, I had a pamphlet for the New Orleans Jazz Fest sprawled, talking about ditching the grind, to join the circus. “The funniest part about that was how ludicrous it was, as ambitious as you were!” Ambitious is a word that has been tossed my way a lot, over this past year, from friends who met me as a young adult… here it was, again, coming from my friend who carefully assembles her sentences, with well chosen words.
I’ve never seen myself as ambitious… goal oriented, yes….. strong work ethic…. definitely. Ambitious has a hard edge to it…. I’m soft…. yet, ambition is an admirable quality. I doubt my personal ambition when I get derailed…. and I’ve felt derailed, this past year. This time a year ago, I was set to move to China… and even though I know I made the right decision, in reversing my plans… and everyone around me, including Kelly, thinks I made the right decision…. I can’t shake the sense that I ran away from an incredible opportunity. Of course, it was an opportunity fraught with radical change, one that wouldn’t be so easy to undo. A two-year commitment, as far away from home as is geographically possible, not knowing a soul… with scant preparation, for such a journey….on top of a series of foundational changes. If taking flight, one should always glide toward something, not away. I was not even gliding, I was careening….a vulnerable position…. and not the good kind of vulnerable. So, why the doubt, why the questioning of my judgment? The answer lies in what I’ve sought, my entire life…. clarity. My theme, my word.
Fulfilling assignments seems next to impossible, without clarity. A spaghetti bowl mind is all tangled; the search for clarity becomes burdened with tumbling thoughts… and perhaps more counterproductive, racing fears. “What-ifs” quickly turn to “Must be trues”… regardless if evidence is lacking. The human mind seeks patterns… if none are easily found, those steeped in humility (a good trait, when applied contextually) will ascribe cause to an oft-times manufactured character defect… leading to paralysis.
My time with Kelly was less than ten minutes old, yet we had each already held up an empowering mirror.
As our visit continued, we fell into topics that were familiar, just with fresh seasoning. The spiritual, from multiple angles, the root, of what we’re each doing, becoming… only Kelly would reverse the order of those two things. She explained how she’s gracefully moved from a focus on doing to being. This sounds simplistic zen, but for many of us, it is painfully difficult. We are conditioned to believe that worth is measured through achievement. We only feel as worthy as our latest tangible creation/project/result. We are bottom-line people, with little patience for process. Yet, this trusted, wise friend was telling me how her life is so much richer, for having truly embraced “being”…with a spiritual certainty that “being” is the bedrock of meaning. The concept wasn’t necessarily new…. but the effect was right between the eyes. I’d tell a friend to be gentle with herself….. I do advise friends to tread lightly, with their process. So, the age-old question… am I not a good friend to myself?
She went on to describe how her new relationship with “being” has led to appreciatively cradling beauty (music, candles, fine wine…. things that are aesthetically pleasing) as fuel for doing the things that are much harder (the grimy parts of our assignments). She drew parallels between joy and service…. not just the joy of service, but the joy of filling one’s cup, to maintain balance. She disinfected my wounds of perfectionism, even as she detailed cleansing her own. Admonishments that extended clemency and empathy, for my battered sense of self. Clarity…. a clear vision of the seeker’s way forward. Again, more of a revelation, on individual terms…. but so compelling, in place and proportion.
I had no problem reflecting the truth of Kelly’s gifts…. gifts she’s just now claiming… yet, I struggle with accepting my own. I struggle with wondering if I took the right fork in the road. The scales are always tipped toward deprecation; this leads to a lack of clarity. I can’t claim assignments if I feel ill prepared. I suspect there are many who are challenged with this discomfiting, stifling companion. Modesty is a virtue; abasement is masochism.
We met with a hug, we parted with a hug…. the words, though, will envelope me, for a long while. Kelly brought me a mirror for peace… peace within. There can be no spiritual co-agency without peace… or clarity. Peace precedes clarity…. clarity precedes fulfilling assignments. We each left knowing that the other strongly believes in the gifts of her friend… perhaps eighteen years is too long for such a reminder.