Untitled - Part 1
Why “untitled”? Because after months of living through and living out this story, we decided that it didn’t need a name. It just needed to be told. We decided that sometimes we spend too much time in life trying to come up with titles, with labels, with categories. We spend so much time observing and categorizing our lives that we end up with precious little time to live them. So this time, and a few more times in the coming weeks, together we will write the story of what is possible when labels get peeled off of people and relationships and outcomes, when common sense is ignored, and when we face the worst thing we know about ourselves and realize that it’s not so bad after all.
How do you put a title on something like that?
Four years. Four feet apart. Forty-four words passed between us. If that many. Then one day, I turned around in my seat, looked her in the face, and said, “Hey, do you want to meet for coffee sometime this week?” When she said that she didn’t drink coffee, I wondered if there was hope for us. I’m glad I didn’t let my pro-coffee position come between us.
We ended up spending nearly four hours talking and laughing and telling stories at Starbucks the very first time we hung out together. I thought: I could be friends with this woman forever. Or so I hoped. To my utter shock, she said she neither wanted nor needed any new friends. I couldn’t imagine the she really didn’t want ME for a friend. What’s up with that? She was clear-headed, articulate, but inexplicably unimpressed with me.
I drove home that day with a thousand questions floating around in my head. How do you become friends with someone who tells you in your first meeting that she doesn’t want any new friends? Will it be possible for me to let her off the hook that easily? What’s it gonna take to get this girl to invite me in to her life and heart?
Many weeks would pass before either of us understood just how deeply we had touched one another that day. Fortunately, we had not idea how much we would have to work through in order to become the friends that we are today. Sometimes not being able to predict or foresee the future really is best.
Who are we? I’m Gail. She’s Mary Anna – “with two n’s,” she often reminds me. We were born eleven years and twenty thousand miles away from each other. I grew up in Brooklyn, New York. Her native city is Caracas, Venezuela. I have three older brothers. She has one older sister. We are both married with children. I have two teenagers rampaging around my house. She has one adorable 20-month-old under her watchful care. Before having her son, she was a real estate agent. Before having my two children, I was a junior high and high school Spanish teacher and college counselor. We are both currently employed as “Desperate Housewives.” I’ve never seen the show of that title, but I know I am one.
She knew from the tender age of thirteen that as soon as she was able, she would leave her homeland of Venezuela for the United States. I decided at the tender age of 13 – actually, I didn’t make a single firm decision about my life until I was in college. And then I promptly changed my mind. She graduated from high school at 16 and went to a huge university in the city where she had grown up. I graduated at 17 and attended a tiny college five hours from home. But we had something in common on the university level: we both studied political science.
My memory is horrendous; hers is remarkable. She listens to music every waking moment, whereas I could and often do spend days without turning on music of any kind. One passion we do share is writing. For a brief while she read my blog voraciously – until she started her own blog and became a prolific writer in her own right. She blames me for getting her started with journaling, but I refuse to accept the blame. She accuses me of turning her into a geek; that I will take credit for. But until she is carrying a pencil case in her purse, she hasn’t come over to the dark side yet.
We grew up speaking different languages, but her second language is my first language, and my second language is her first language. Was that us getting our signals crossed or finally uncrossing them? We’re still not sure about the answer to that. But I will say this: she thinks we don’t speak her language enough. I’d be glad to speak Spanish more, but she knows a whole lot more Spanish than I do – and I’m not yet ready to give her the higher ground in this relationship.
How we met is intricately tied to this whole first and second language thing. Until recently, I served as the main translator at a bilingual congregation in a local church here in Charlotte. My job was to translate sermons from Spanish into English on Sunday mornings. When the sermon was given in English, it was her job to translate it into Spanish. When I got tongue-tied on the pulpit, which was often, I could always count on her to provide the right word at just the right time. At least, I think they were the right words; she could still be pulling the wool over my ojos – I mean, eyes.
Back to that first meeting at Starbucks… we met there one Thursday afternoon to get to know each other a little. After all, we’d sat four feet away from each other for over four years. What neither of us expected was to discover that we had far more in common than sitting one row apart for all that time. What neither of us expected was to discover that we viewed our roles in the church, our roles as women, as wives, as mothers, as inhabitants of this country, as inhabitants of this amazing planet we share in very much the same way. From the very start, we were able to finish each other’s sentences. More than once I have teased her about having read my journals. And she teases me about reading her mind.
Let there be no doubt; our friendship hasn’t been easy or smooth every step of the way. But that’s a story for another blog post – and there will be more blog posts about this remarkable, rocky, dark, shadowy, insightful, challenging, eye-opening, life-changing, and soul-stirring friendship we share. In the past three weeks, one of us has had to admit to a long-maintained lie, and the other has had to face a long-denied truth. Both of us have emerged from one of the most difficult realizations of our lives together. Or perhaps “together” isn’t the right word; it may be more accurate to say we have emerged at the same time and side by side.
One thing we have learned in the four short months that we have spent getting to know one another is this: we may be co-travelers on this life journey, but our experiences are radically different. We have sat in movie theaters, church services, restaurants, parking lots, and Italian classes together – but if you ask her to describe what happened and what was said, her answer would be different from mine. Even sitting in Starbucks right now (yes, we are back at Starbucks!) the retelling of the story of our friendship has reminded us of both the beauty and the mystery of sharing life together. As much as we may share, as much time as we spend talking and texting back and forth, we are each fully aware that, she is living out her own story and I am living mine. Even though we are on this life journey concurrently, each of us walks it alone.
We are learning to listen to one another in new ways. We are learning to talk to each other in new ways. We are learning when to give advice and when to sit in silence. We are learning how easy it is to misunderstand and be misunderstood. We have learned about forgiveness – both asking for it and extending it. We have learned about help – asking for it, receiving it, and giving it. When “common sense” says to walk away, sometimes that still, small inner voice whispers: “Give her another chance.” When “common sense” says to do anything and everything it takes to bring suffering to an end, sometimes the heart, this crazy heart of mine, that crazy heart of hers, says “Don’t give up, don’t give in, don’t give over to despair. Take one more chance.”
Recently we had a long talk about sharing the story of our friendship on our blogs. My initial reaction was one of hesitation. I wondered: Why would we want to do that? Who wants to read about us? She answered with a question of her own: Why not share it? She was right: why not tell our story? This is a universal story of how a relationship that looks impossible on paper sometimes defies all the odds in reality.
Anyone who has lost faith in the power of faith and friendship and forgiveness and honesty and love and prayer to fix most of what ails us needs to read this story. Our hope is that after reading this story, you will take a chance on making a new friend or forgiving an old friend or rescuing a lost friend. Perhaps you are the old friend, the lost friend, the new friend, the one that needs to ask for reconciliation or forgiveness. Please don’t wait. Not one moment is promised; not one day is guaranteed. So make every day, every hour count.