I am not a good keeper-in-toucher. I always think I need a good reason to call people, and then a good reason comes along and I don’t call because I don’t want to seem like I am just calling because I need something.
My friend, Erica understands this. She is the kind of friend I can call for quick advice about a recipe or wake up in the middle of the night because my dog died. (Which I actually did because I didn’t remember that we were in different time-zones.) Lucky for me, our friendship is the same no matter how much time has gone by.
When I lived in Portland, Oregon in the early 90’s (by the way, these pics were taken in 1998 when my daughter was about 15 months old), we ran together everyday, rain or shine (often rain) and grew into a rare comfort and ease. Since then, we have seen each other through marriages, surgeries, trading apartments, purchasing first homes, moving away, birthing babies, decorating on a shoe string, organizing too much stuff, being sick, getting well, sewing anything (note the awful home-made maternity dress I am wearing in the pics!), cooking everything, growing and eating healthy food, and navigating the on-going odyssey of parenting and relationships.
Years have gone by and when I finally planned a trip back to Portland, I wondered if she would look the same. I wondered if I would look the same to her.
This is where I got sidetracked.
Over the weeks leading up to my trip, I thought about our plans and the clothes I would need to bring. I began to see this as a rare opportunity to become who I really wish I was – a wonderful, different, new-improved version of the person I was before. I hoped I would seem like I was more “me” now, but better than before. You know…special.
After much deliberation, I planned to wear my platform sandals (because, someday, I intend to be the kind of fancy person who wears high heels all the time), skinny white jeans (because they seem hip and I can still zip them), and my Eileen-Fisher-esque unstructured blue linen shirt (to hide the parts of me that have, er, uh, expanded over the years). My nails were done, I had just the right earrings, perfect color of lipstick, and a fresh haircut. I eagerly anticipated the chance to present my friend with a perfect, brand-spanking-new-improved-fabulous version of my “best” self.
Instead, early one morning, I got her text to “come on by” now. Right now. My mind slowly ground through the vision I had preconceived of how this was supposed to go. I stalled for time to think, saying “…but I haven’t showered, or even brushed my teeth.” To which she responded, “well, I don’t plan to shower today and I am still in my robe! Just come on over!”
I am happy to say that the lure of seeing my dear friend won out over my vanity. I did take a minute to brush my teeth, but otherwise showed up as un-styled and untended as I ever have been. I was surprised when the sight of my old friend made me weep like a child who has been away from home for too long.
Later in the week, I confessed my foiled plans to Erica and she just laughed, because that is the kind of understanding friend she is. Apparently that morning, she had told her parents about our reunion and commented on how raw and vulnerable I had looked and how it made her feel close to see me in such a real, unguarded state.
My intention was to connect with my dear friend and I got exactly what I wanted. The universe conspires to help me get out of my own way sometimes – whether I want help or not. My silly plans were foiled. I didn’t get to keep absolute control over how I was seen.
I did not get to show Erica the “me” that I had planned to be – there was no perfectly unstructured blue linen shirt to hide my muffin-top and make me feel like the hip almost-50-year-old I wished I were. I didn’t have make-up to hide my age-spots or platform sandals to make me seem taller and more elegant. I showed up with nothing to hide behind. There was nothing to keep the “real me” from being seen – which could not have been more plenty perfect.
Even though I was going to see one of my best friends in the world, I find it interesting that my instinct was to protect myself. It isn’t that my desire to dress nicely was wrong. The problem came when I disconnected from my thoughts of being with my friend and became so self-conscious and fearful of how I would be perceived that I attempted to create a “new-improved” version of myself with my clothes. I was essentially creating distance between us by attempting to become something more than my authentic, real, little old self.
If the circumstances had not been as they were, I might not have experienced Erica’s genuine love and acceptance because I would not have risked showing up so bare. And maybe that is what made me cry. We have a primal need to be seen, accepted, and loved that is hard to satisfy in our competetive, busy world. Wherever we find it – with family, love relationships, or friends – it is deeply moving.
My self-consciousness about calling old friends is really an excuse. It is a way of avoiding risk, but it keeps me from being truly connected with the people I care about. It is only when we are willing to show up without our protective armor that we are able to experience true safety.
Do you have someone in your life who makes you feel completely safe?