As we say goodbye to 2016, I invite you to consider, along with me, how we’ve met our friends, those special people in our lives who are there for us no matter what…
“What about your friends?” my six-year-old granddaughter asked last spring when she was visiting us in our Chicago condo overlooking Lake Michigan.
I’d just told her that Grandpa and I were moving to live near her in South Dakota and was startled by her perceptive response. “That’s the hard part,” I said. “I’ll have to make new friends.”
She darted her eyes around as if searching for a reply, then said pensively, “I’ll be your friend.”
I was very touched. Leaving friends behind in Chicago has been the hardest part of this move. It has helped that I’ve moved ten times in my life, but the last time, when we moved eleven years ago from a Chicago suburb to downtown, it was easy to make friends. The condo building was new, so I was in on the start of social activities such as aqua aerobics, book club, and monthly hospitality parties. And we’d already joined a church downtown where I was serving on a Mental Health Ministry committee. And I’d helped form a writing group in the city several years earlier that met weekly. So there were built-in connections with the move.
Moving to Sioux Falls, my only connection was my daughter and her family, and I didn’t want to become a burden to her in finding my own friends. I remembered advice I’d gotten from an older sister when she’d retired and started a new life: “You just have to show up, Lois. Go places, lots of places. See what, or who, materializes.”
A. A. Milne, author of the Winnie-the-Pooh books, knew this too: “You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.”
So I did. And my daughter played a pivotal part after all. I’d joined her Fitness Center, and one day early on, while taking a breather at a drinking fountain, she introduced me to one of her friends: “This is my mom. She just moved here from Chicago.”
Seconds later, a woman about my age with short graying hair, wearing a smile and nicely fitted workout clothes, came over. “Excuse me, but I overheard you’re from Chicago. I am too.”
Imagine my surprise. I’m sure my eyes reflected my excitement. I’d been holed up in the 90-degree summer heat unpacking boxes, so getting out alone was a treat, but meeting someone from Chicago was a huge bonus. Seeing our delight in meeting each other, my daughter quickly interjected: “You two better exchange phone numbers.”
We met shortly afterward for a coffee date that lasted three hours. Mary (not her real name) and I clicked on many levels. Similar age, both advanced education, both loving the diversity of ethnicities and viewpoints when living in a large city, but now transplanted into the more homogeneous world of a much smaller city.
Meeting Mary, I knew I’d found a friend. It’s that “aha’ moment that C.S. Lewis described in The Four Loves: “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.’”
During the fall, Mary became my peer introduction to my new city. I picked her up in my now ancient 2000 Beetle that had sat eleven years in the parking garage of our Chicago condo and drove “downtown,” a sixteen-minute, five-mile drive. As we sauntered up the main street of the downtown, about four blocks, she explained each restaurant and boutique. Then we went to 8th and Railroad, a nearby trendy boutique strip and she introduced me to several store owners. I was thrilled to find that one store carried Patricia Locke jewelry; Locke is a Chicago designer known for her asymmetric colorful combinations of various stones. I’d purchased a few Patricia Locke pieces from my favorite sales associate, Rita, at the Macy’s on State Street store next door to our former condo. I became aware that any connection to my former life brought a warm feeling of peace.
I had wanted to be open to new experiences after moving, and Mary helped me here as well. She forwarded emails of organizations she thought might interest me. I joined the League of Women Voters in time to learn about the local referenda to be voted on along with the general election. I joined Cinema Falls, an indie film group and soon saw the documentary of cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Ma is the artistic director for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra where I’d seen him more than once. Another time of relishing familiarity. I joined OLLI, the Osher Life Learning Institute that I’d read about before moving here, but got a nudge from Mary who then came along with me to their introductory session.
At that meeting, Mary introduced me to Joan (not her real name), saying as an aside, “I think she’s Presbyterian.”
So I had a church connection. We belong to Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago, and I’d been visiting churches since we’d arrived. I would never replace Fourth Pres, a 5000-member congregation on Michigan Avenue in the heart of the city. As a member of the Welcome Committee there, I used to tell visitors that we had the whole package of a formal worship service—the preaching, the music (choir, brass, organ), and Gothic architecture, all the ingredients that for me make a church service feel like church. And it was inclusive; all were welcome there. Now I must find something like that here on a much smaller scale.
Soon after we met, Joan emailed to meet for coffee and that morphed into a two-hour chat about mutual interests—churches, transitions, and politics. The latter naturally bubbled up during a contentious presidential election season with me from Democratic Chicago transplanted into Republican Sioux Falls. Our conversation gave me a heartwarming feeling of acceptance that I realized I’d taken for granted in Chicago.
There have been other contacts as well: my daughter told me of a book club open to new members; one woman at a church I visited told me about an active seniors’ group; a neighbor invited me to play mahjong (no thanks, I was never good at games); another woman invited me to her church’s women’s group where I met fifteen more women who freely shared their personal stories to this newcomer.
And when a local magazine featured a newly formed writing community, I really began to feel at home; I joined right away and participated in a book festival where I was thrilled to meet a few nurses, one who had a PhD and Chicago connections like me.
And the list could go on.
So now, while the sub-zero snowy weather of winter descends on my new home, I know that making long-term friends will take a while. And I know I will make friends for different areas of interest like I did in Chicago. Just like an old friend, whom I’ll call Hannah, now ninety-five and living in a nursing home, once told me, “I have friends for everything: a neighbor lady takes me to the opera, another lady picks me up for church, a friend gets groceries for me, another friend takes me to my doctors’ appointments, and you, you drop in to visit. I am blessed.”
As I recall Hannah’s description of her friends, I think back a few years to when I was a student in the Basic Program of Liberal Education for Adults at the University of Chicago. We were studying Aristotle’s words on friendship in the Nicomachean Ethics. Overall, he said, friendship is a “mutual feeling of good will between two people.” So far, so good.
But, and I paraphrase here, he pointed out that friends serve different purposes, just like Hannah’s did. Some are useful, some are pleasurable, and, in a third, some friends recognize goodness in each other and want to help each other develop that. Of course, the latter friendship also has elements of the first two.
So, ideally, I’ll find friends who not only want to give me a ride somewhere, but find me pleasant to be with, and with whom we can work toward bringing out the best in one another.
Thanks to those women who already have selflessly mentored me here in my new hometown, I’m confident that as spring rolls around I will find different kinds of friends. Friends who will become like those I’ve left behind, friends that one writing colleague has called those who have “staying power.” The friends whom, when we see each other again, pick up right where we left off.
And that little granddaughter who first asked me the question about friends? She curls up next to me on the couch, calls me Grammie, reads me stories from her huge personal library collection, tells me, “I love Jesus, uh huh. I do, and he loves me, uh huh,” and begs, “You don’t have to leave yet, do you?”
And I hope and pray, as I’m adjusting to my new home with its view of snowy hills and evergreens, that she and I will always be friends.
Wishing you and all my friends a Happy New Year!