For the last year - or so, I have been hearing the first line of something -- but I haven't known what it was meant to become. A post, a poem, a conversation I needed to have with someone? Then today, I heard it in the context of the Hemingway quote that gave voice to the last, most recent post on this blog, "Write hard and clear about what hurts."
That was when I knew. That first sentence was a prompt, a reminder. And it wasn't giving up. It was saying, over-and-over again, "You need to write about this:
"when I was fourteen..."
So today, I stopped and listened. And it was like a sucker punch to my heart. I sighed deeply. "Yes," I thought, "this is what once hurt, and needs to be written."
A few years back, there was a song, by The Band Perry, titled,"If I Die Young," It may sound self-indulgent, dramatic, and morbid, but whenever I heard it I wanted to weep for the girl I was at fourteen. Sometimes death comes to us in ways that aren't an escape - we just have to find a path through.
When I was fourteen, my life finally felt like it was becoming livable. The abuse I'd endured since the age of four had all but stopped -- when my family began to explore a deeper understanding of our individual and collective relationship with God. We still moved houses regularly, but I had a real friend for the first time in my life. A friend that I wasn't related to. A friend that didn't disappear when we changed neighborhoods and zip codes.
You see, even though we changed schools, we still lived in the same town and went to the same church. I was still able to participate in the same camp-based local activities. For the first time, there was continuity in my life - one that extended beyond my family. And there was hope for a future that included my dream of having a life-long friend -- something I'd only read about in books.
I loved my new Sunday School friend. We rode bikes, sat by the pool, went to movies, and talked about things that mattered.
And then one day, we had a family meeting. My parents told us that we were moving -- again. But this time it was going to be out-of-state and time zones away. Spontaneous phone calls, movies, sleepovers on weekends -- were over. Long-distance phone rates would make calling impossible.
Saying goodbye that last Sunday after church was one of the most painful moments of my childhood. As our parents waited, my friend and I said goodbye and promised to write letters -- every day. Later that week my family loaded up our station wagon and we were on the road to a new state, a new town, new schools, a new neighborhood, and a new church home. I saved my babysitting money, I bought pretty stationery and postage stamps. I wrote my friend almost every day. She never wrote back.
For a year I checked the mailbox daily - the minute I got home from school. If it was empty, the first question I would ask my mother as I flew through the kitchen door was, "Was there a letter today?' There never was.
You may be wondering why I feel the need to write about this tonight -- isn't it just water under the bridge? Well, besides the fact that I kept hearing that one line: "When I was fourteen..." it is because it was a great hurt that I can now write hard and clear about.
And if I have learned anything after six decades of living in this world, it is that we are never alone in the pain we have experienced. To feel dismissible when you are doing everything to connect with another human being is heartbreaking. It can make you want to "die young" -- as it did me. So, if there is someone out there feeling this kind of loneliness -- I need for them to know, you are not alone.
For many people, their lives are filled to the brim with continuity and connection. They grow up in loving homes, they have the same friends throughout childhood, they are embarrassed by indulgent parents, and overwhelmed by a hyper vigilant community that knows everything about them and the details of their lives.
If you are one of those people, I can't tell you how much I envied you -- most my life.
But for some of us, life was lonely. We dreamed of familiarity, connection, continuity of place and people. When we finally had a friend, we were willing to do anything to keep that thread intact. And sometimes we made grave mistakes. We over compensated, we gave gifts that seem too generous, we called, wrote, texted more than we should, we hesitated to say "the hard things" for fear of being rejected or dismissed, we are too easily crushed and too quickly hurt. We take things too personally. We are too grateful one minute and too needy the next.
If you have lived a life filled with family, friendship, connection, and community you are blessed. If you have a friend who has come into your life and seems too needy, or too willing, or too eager to write, call, text -- please be patient and kind. If your child has a friend who moves away and writes them a letter - please encourage them to reply. It may be the single most important thing they do for another human being. Rejection hurts. Childhood rejection is devastating -- even when it is done without malice or rancor -- which I am absolutely certain was the case with my Sunday School friend. She was just a girl herself. She just had a full life. I was simply that extra drop that flowed over the edge of the cup.
But, I still remember the name of my friend. I still think about her all the time - almost 50 years later. I wonder if she ever read my letters -- on pretty stationery spritzed with Love's Baby Soft perfume and filled with all the details of a 14 year old's life in a strange new place where she felt more alone than ever before.
Did she like the four-leaf clovers I found, pressed, and tucked in with the program from my new school's homecoming festivities. Did she ever even read the poem about friendship that it took me three weeks to write and finally find the courage to send? Did she ever wonder whether the boy I told her about was kind or funny?
She was beautiful and popular. She had many friends. Her life didn't change when I left. I was just a small, shy girl who she meant the world to. A church friend. But to me, she was my first real friend.
Sometimes, I just think of what she may have missed -- a lifelong relationship with someone who thought she was very, very special. Someone for whom she was a refuge of friendship, in an unfriendly world. Someone who would have never let her down.
Mary Baker Eddy wrote in her autobiography, Retrospection and Introspection:
"There is no greater miracle
known to earth, than perfection
and an unbroken friendship."
I pray she knows that I would have been in her corner forever. I would have done anything to be the friend she may have needed someday - and could always turn to.
Since then I have been blessed by some amazing friendships. But being a friend is not something I am always confident about. I am often awkward in groups, I shut down if I feel insecure, I don't always know what to say, I take things too personally, I need a "job" to be at ease in social settings. Yet I am always trying to be the friend I never had as a child, or as a teenager.
I don't think I am the only one who has ever felt "friendless." Friendship is hard. It requires a level of vulnerability that leaves us feeling naked in a crowd. It also requires trust in a Love that overarches those moments when we do feel alone in a world obsessed with group selfies, and accumulating "likes," on social media. A love that can't be measured, apportioned, given, taken back, extended, or unfriended.
Elsewhere in her primary work, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, Mary Baker Eddy offers this encouragement to anyone who has ever felt lonely and friendless:
"Would existence without personal friends
be to you a blank? Then the time will come
when you will be solitary, left without sympathy;
but this seeming vacuum is already filled
with divine Love."
This statement was a promise for me as a fourteen year old girl waiting for a letter in the mail. And tonight, as I look back at that chapter in my life, I realize God was always there in my heart. I was filled with love and hope. I was the one who had the courage and strength to love someone, even when there was no response.
Tonight I am writing as hard and clear as I can, about something that once hurt, but is now a memory of the sweet, shy girl I was. The girl who never stopped hoping. I write, in hopes that it will help someone else remember how rare and remarkable it is - in this world - to be loved and believed in by another person. And maybe - just maybe - to hold hands across the miles with someone else who feels alone. If you write, I promise -- I will always answer.
offered with Love,