Thursday, February 17, 2011
My First Best Friend
My first best friend died last week. Our lives had drifted apart years ago. So, I was surprised at the inundating wave of emotions that overtook me on hearing the news. A hundred visions of two innocent girls, giggling and singing and dreaming flooded my heart. Memories of honest, young friendship before the interference of peer pressure and cliques and gossip and boys washed over me. I let the idea of the scarcity of it all, the inevitable fading of it sink in. And suddenly I didn't want it to fade. I wanted a way to hold onto that part of myself, that part of my friend.
I searched old photo albums for visual reminders of that beautiful time. There they were-- a handful of birthday party pictures, a First Communion photograph, a school portrait with her handwritten note on the back. I studied every detail of these treasures and began to understand the importance of a First Best Friend.
A First Best Friendship may be one of the most important places where our formation of spirit begins and grows. Without the pressure of societal expectations, we learn acceptance and sharing and forgiveness and compassion in a way that imprints our souls.
At her funeral, I saw dozens of images of the woman My First Best Friend had become. I stared at the collages of family events, sorority sisters, and high school activities. At the ceremony, I listened to the amazing life she'd lived after college. I learned how she had created an exciting career that lead her to fun places where she impacted the lives of who knows how many people.
And I began to feel cheated.
My First Best Friend, who had been by my side at every single birthday party until I turned 12 and my family moved away, who had pretended to be Charlie's Angels with me, who had worn matching First Communion gowns with me, who had shared an early girlhood dream of becoming famous singers with me had blessed my life for such a very short time. Most everyone else in attendance there had experienced her joy for a lifetime.
Sitting at the back of that same church the where the two of us had learned the Hail Mary and Our Father and tasted our first Eucharist, I looked at all the sad faces. I recognized a few other childhood friends whose families had stayed in our small hometown. These were the girls who shared with my First Best Friend the experiences that take us from girl to woman. They cheered for the same football team and maybe even dated the same quarterback. They shared a first Prom and possibly a first After-Prom Kegger. They experienced boy-craziness and basketball tournaments. They walked across the same graduation stage.
I saw the grief of her family who had shared a lifetime of Christmases and family vacations. I recognized her older sister whom My First Best Friend has admired even as a young girl. I saw her brother whom she'd held a ferocious protecting love for, even when we were kids.
And I began to feel selfish.
Who was I to grieve? I couldn't really say I missed having her in my life. I hadn't seen her for decades. These people shared a lifetime with her. I was intruding on their celebration of her life and mourning of her death. It was not my place to cry at her absence. It was not my place to comfort her parents. And yet my heart still ached. Later, at the cemetery, this most unexpected mix of emotions still tumbled around inside me while I approached her parents. Her father hugged me like a long lost daughter and her mother thanked me over and over again for coming.
And I began to feel blessed.
God places a few exceptional people in this world. One of them was My First Best Friend. She imprinted her life on mine at a time and an age when our unadulterated souls are most open to the lessons of the love of friendship. I distinctly remember, even at so young an age, wanting to be a better person when I was in her presence. Now, knowing the woman she became and the friend she was to so many, I want to be a better person, still. When God places exceptional people like Sharla Kae in my life, no matter how short the time, how can I not feel blessed?