Yesterday evening a gentle rain fell. When the drops hit the skylight above the family room, the falling tap, tap, tap became a lullaby that gave an already peaceful evening a deeper coziness. I snuggled into the sofa, toes tucked into an afghan, with every intent of losing myself in a really good book. But I soon fell sleep and awoke only when the book hit the floor with a thud. The sudden sound awoke Harry, too. He had dozed while reading the paper.
We exchanged smiles, the smiles of contentment and peace that are treasures. The fast-paced life near Washington, D.C. can totally drain one's mental and physical energy. And evenings can turn into snatched conversations while catching the news or scanning the paper, all the while thinking of sleep, the next day's fuel.
But, as the holidays approach, these contented evenings increase, not only in our household, but, according to Harry, among co-workers, and, according to neighbors, in their households, too. Harry thinks it's because lifestyle stress has peaked, that so many people, tired and beaten down by life's demands and rejections, have begun to rise above the swirling clouds: the Recession/Depression, congested commutes, the fear of losing a job and not commuting, and, most of all, the fear of not knowing.
A certain acceptance has bred a certain peacefulness. Not denial, for everyone knows the problems Out There are very real and much hinges on What Happens Next. And people also know they have to soldier on, not give up. But a reality check now exists for many: people can only work so hard, accomplish so much and that, what happens next, either bad or good, is out of individual control. Let go, Let God/Higher Power/Inner Spirituality prevails. And this is good.
The approaching holidays also stir memories: family gatherings, wished-for family gatherings, trips near and far, and, well, personalized memories without translation, sometimes warm and tingly, sometimes sad and empty. As I prepared for bed last night a memory from five years earlier stirred. I'd like to share it with you. Because what happened kicked like a mule.
Now, this incident wasn't the first time Life had kicked. (After all, each day isn't a Free Pass where people stand in line to get only the Good Stuff.) A more serious kick had occurred twenty years ago when doctors had erred when they told me I had terminal cancer and six months to live. Kicks like that make one stand taller and fight back.
So, the incident five years ago with a BFF still kicked, but in a different way. The kick confused me, hurt deep inside where no one else goes, and made me wonder what the hell was going on. For Harry and I had returned to the States after two years overseas, in Macedonia. I hadn't fully comprehended how The Boom had capitalized money, put an S on all things material...houseS, clotheS, carS, weddingS.
My BFF's two sons, and also our godsons, were getting married, the younger one in April, the older one in August. Harry and I would return from Macedonia a month before the first wedding. For some time, my BFF of thirty years and I had been in e-mail communication about wedding gifts. As godparents, Harry and I wanted to give both boys a memorable gift.
But, with time quickly passing, Linda and I concentrated on the more immediate wedding in April. Everything I suggested she rejected, from a nice collectible to an area carpet from Istanbul (where we'd go once more prior to returning to the States). These rejected gifts should have triggered trouble brewing. But Linda and I had an honest, open relationship, so I fobbed off the rejections on her wanting us to give the right memorable gift. A mistake.
Upon our return to the States, Linda and I continued our telephone chats, not as frequently as I had hoped. But I rationalized Linda had a lot on her plate. However, with her son's wedding now two weeks away, I grew more and more concerned that Harry and I lacked a proper wedding gift and, more so, that Linda would turn curt at anything I mentioned...and, to be sure, her rejections had accumulated. Gift options were now running out, including the gift registry, which had filled.
This time, though, when the phone rang, Linda opened with, "I know what you can give for a wedding gift."
I responded with an enthused, "What? Tell me."
What followed was a recital that began with the younger son having considerable debt, how he needed to pay off a trip to South Africa, how he needed to pay off a trip to Europe, how he needed to pay off a skiing trip, how he needed to pay off bills accumulated from the large lilfestyle he had enjoyed, and how I needed to write a check for $10,000 to help pay off these bills.
And, oh, by the way, it wouldn't be fair to give one son $10,000 without giving the other son $10,000 (who had led a responsible life). But fair was fair, I was told.
Ka-ching, $20,000 smackers....I exhaled slowly and responded as politely as I could that such a large monetary gift wasn't possible and suggested a respectable but lower amount and that this gift would be to the couple, not an individual gift to the son. Linda angrily rejected my offer, saying her son needed to get his debt load down because he was marrying into a rich, politically-connected family and didn't want to appear a pauper. I said that her son's debts were not my responsibility, that he should have lived within his means in the first place, and that I wasn't going to enable deceit.
The conversation ended with Linda saying, "Everything hinges on you writing that check."
Harry and I didn't write that check. Instead, we gave the couple a traditional gift, a collectible others the same age as the bride and groom said they'd love to have.
We attended the wedding. It was lovely, even if Linda barely acknowledged me.
Linda and I exchanged our last telephone conversation the week prior to Thanksgiving. Actually, I called her. When she flipped me off, I knew that that was that.
Like I said, the end kicked. For we had been through thirty years of Life together. But deeper than that, what really kicked was that Harry and I had returned to the States just as The Boom had kicked into high gear. Everything was for sale. I can be naive, too innocent for my own good, too reflective and couldn't understand how a friendship could have a price tag.
This swirled in my thoughts for a year. Of course, I had moved on...I'm blessed to have a strong network of friends...and am not one to sit idle...but, still, what happened nagged. Until the day the nagging stopped a year later...I can't tell you which day...but it stopped. And when Linda sent word that we should be friends again, I shook my head no and continued to move on. For I had grown stronger. I had developed a deeper spirituality that more clearly differentiated Light from Dark, the Abstract from the Concrete, between what Is and what Should Be. I had acquired an acceptance of Being that calmed the waters that sometimes surged, for life can be unfair, for I am imperfect and strive for the better that doesn't always come.
And, so, Linda and I now have in common What Was...and this is good.