By: Jennifer Erin Valent
It's a perfect day.
Beautiful weather, an outdoor table at a cafe, and three old friends to chat with - it doesn't get much better than that. The only catch is it took us two months to get here. All three of my friends, confidants since childhood, have schedules that would need to be read by an auctioneer: husbands, houses, kids, work, grocery shopping, errands, not to mention school, sports and nighttime feedings for the children... you name it, they do it. Add to that the fact that one is a new mother with a part time job, another is a military wife who recently sent her husband off to a tour of duty, and another has four kids and a brother who is also leaving for military service, and you've got a virtual circus. This is fitting, since pinning them down for an outing is akin to juggling on a unicycle. It can be done, but it takes skill and practice... and a little supernatural intervention.
And though we've made it through the first twenty or so years of friendship, I can't help but wonder how we're ever going to manage the coming decades. With all of us in our early thirties, we've got lives that are kicking into full swing, making it much more difficult to spend hours talking on the phone or shopping for the perfect pair of pumps.
But despite the uncertainty of the future, our discussion at the cafe makes it clear that we all have a sense that we'll be growing old together. My friend Melanie has already warned me that I am not permitted to let her spend her latter years sitting around making ugly crafts, and when I reiterate my promise to her at the cafe, Amy adds her own instructions to never let her dye her hair blue. We may be seeing each other for the first time in weeks, but we're already planning ahead to our days in the retirement home. After all, we've relied on our friendships for so much of our past, it's natural to feel them necessary to our future.
It's amazing, really, to consider how we got here - four different people with different lives and interests who grew and changed over the years but never left behind the naturalness of our friendship. When I pose the question of what we think brought us together, Melissa notes that she and I came together through no coincidence. "I felt like it was the Lord that drew us together. I think it shows that the relationships that stick show a little bit about who you are. It shows a little bit about your character." And while it definitely didn't hurt to have a love for stickers in common as Melanie reminds us, we all feel with certainty that the Lord brought us together - and kept us together - quite purposefully.
Through our friendship we have a built-in support system of confidants, prayer partners, spiritual accountants, and stellar shopping buddies. Toss in that extra set of consciences and you've got a perfect mix. "[Our friendship] held me accountable," says Melanie of our adolescent years. "Maybe not verbally, but just kind of knowing that other people are watching you." It is a gift to have people in our lives who have witnessed our more turbulent years of trial and error and actually still like us, and it is a gift to still have them on our side.
True to the tide of life, we've experienced lulls over the years, but we always manage to reconnect with little difficulty. And what a necessity it is in these hectic times to be able to come together at a cafe, spend a few moments catching up, and fill the next three hours laughing and annoying our waitress by monopolizing her table. Those are times for lightening our loads, commiserating and sharing secrets. And though Melissa reminds me that my Richard Simmons hairstyle - a tragic misuse of perm rods in junior high - will never be a safe secret, we all trust that the important stuff will remain sacred between us. That's what years of trusting the same people can do for you.
So, how do we navigate the chaotic changes of life without letting our friendship tumble to the sidelines? I went to the experts for those answers; to those who have gone before us and nurtured old friendships through the busiest years of their lives. Here are a few of their time-tested recipes for success.
Keep Age In Perspective
Some people say they look in the mirror and expect to see the twenty-five-year-old they feel like they are inside while others internalize every wrinkle and age spot. "I really think that's a choice," says 81-year-old Rosemary, a longtime friend of my family. "You get physical things wrong with you. In your mind, you don't have to get old."
Stay In Touch
My Aunt Jan, who talked to me on her sixtieth birthday, recalls a friend of hers saying we should "send a card for no reason at all... when their name is on your heart." We've all known the thrill of finding familiar handwriting in our mailbox on a particularly stressful day. Those are things we treasure, and most of us have a hatbox full of letters to prove it.
Telegraph, Telephone, Tell A Friend
Communication isn't limited to jotting down notes or clicking the send button on our e-mail. It can be a support system during trying times. When my uncle had his kidney transplant, it was my aunt's friends who spread the word for prayer and showed up at the hospital for support. "This is what true friends do," she says. "They came to be with me and share in the joy."
Open Those Ears And Open Those Hearts
There is nothing so comforting as knowing that someone else truly cares about your life."One of the best things that helps build a friendship is to listen," says Rosemary. "People love that. That goes a long way with long friendships."
Rely On A Firm Foundation
That which the Lord brings together, let no man put asunder. It's as true in friendships as it is in marriage, but anything that isn't founded on the Lord can be pulled apart. "Putting God at the center is the main thing," says Rosemary. "We don't really have much of a relationship unless He's in it."
As I savor these words of wisdom, I fast forward in my mind to a seventy-eight-year-old me, gray hair tousled by the breeze at an outdoor cafe, sitting with my girlfriends and annoying yet another waitress by taking up her table for three hours. It warms my heart to think of all the new memories we'll make over the coming years to share over our hot chocolate on that day, and I thank God for the blessing of it. We won't be making ugly crafts or getting our hair dyed blue, but we'll be keeping our hearts young, listening to each other's stories, promising to keep in touch, and whispering silent prayers for one another.
And we'll leave a little extra tip for the waitress.
Jennifer Erin Valent is a freelance writer and author of a soon to be published novel "Fireflies in December." She lives in her hometown of Richmond, Virginia.