Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Super Friends

I recently spent a weekend visiting my dear friend Kaye Zusmann in the beautiful city of Asheville, North Carolina. We had seen each other in eleven years. Yes, eleven years!
When you're threatened by super-villians,
true friends always answer the call—
or accept your Friend request.
   Kaye and I were colleagues and single-girl compatriots in our Turner Broadcasting days. We gossiped in the halls of the Techwood offices. We spent many weekends and evenings together, comparing notes on our latest love interests and career challenges. Once, we even traveled to St. Thomas together on vacation. When I left Turner and, soon after, became engaged, Kaye was right there, cheering me on. I remember being slightly anxious when I introduced Kaye to my betrothed. I greatly respected her opinion, and when Kaye signed off on him, I felt surely I made the right decision.
   The night before my wedding, we held a bachelorette party of two, and I spent the night at her condo. We laughed and talked well into the evening, but after we retired, I lay awake, contemplating that in less than twelve hours I would be married, my name changed, and a chapter of my life sealed closed. I didn't confide my 2 AM doubts to my good friend. I didn't want her to worry, but I also didn't want to admit them to myself.
    I settled into married life, and the life of a freelance writer, while Kaye continued on the corporate path. Soon after, she was offered a fabulous job in L.A. as a television producer. We saw each other one time after she moved, when I visited the west coast for business. After that night, our lives spun out in different directions. We lost touch. Years passed.
   Then, last summer, at the height of my Crisis, I found Kaye's gorgeous face staring at me on Facebook. I tried to recall why it was we had lost touch. Had I done something to offend her? Did I forget her birthday? Or not return a phone call in due speed? Nothing came to mind, but you never know. I extended a Friend request and held my breath. Would she begrudge me for falling out of touch all these years? Had the statute of limitations run out on our friendship?
   To my great relief and pleasure, she accepted my friendship in record time. A two-hour phone call later and we were right back where we left off, as though a bookmark had been placed in our relationship. That, of course, is the true test of friendship. We had gone off and traveled our divergent paths, but the relationship remained intact, a gossamir thread holding us tightly together. As with all of my dearest friends, Kaye was there—right there—by my side, and I with her, even when we were thousands of miles apart and disconnected from phone or email.
   We quickly caught up, though there had been many, many adventures during our off-season. The big news was Kaye was getting married the following spring. (That would be now.) Yes, the irony was not lost on us that at the very time I was engaged to be divorced, my dear friend was engaged to be married. Our divergent chapters were opening and closing, but her happy news cheered me. She had met her true love, and the story was quite impossibly romantic—her real life happy ending was just beginning.
   We planned to see each other last fall but Life had conspiracies against our reunion. Kaye's mother became gravely ill and required her full attention. Her recovery was long and arduous and Kaye, of course, made her mother's health her priority. She even postponed her wedding from March to July to ensure her mother would be able to attend. It seemed we might be destined to live like star-crossed lovers, ever planning but never fulfilling our plans to meet. Then in January, Kaye invited me to visit her at her vacation home in Asheville, NC. We set a date in stone: May 13. After not seeing each other for eleven years, what were a few more months? During the months that followed, we continued to talk on at least a weekly basis, and Kaye held my hand across the miles during more than one crying jag. I would like to think I was there for her, too. Caring for a hospitalized parent is one of the hardest tasks we face, and I tried to lend my compassion to her as best I could during that time.
   Winter turned to spring. Tornadoes raged. Flood waters rose. Finally, finally it was May 13 and I drove up the winding roads into the Blue Ridge Mountains to meet my long, lost friend. We had a music festival to attend and bridesmaid dresses to pick out. (Yes, I'm going to be a bridesmaid again...) Best of all, we could finally sit and talk without having our ear pressed to a cell phone or receiver. You can imagine the girlish squeals that echoed across the Blue Ridge when I finally pulled into her drive away and she ran to meet me. We were right back where we were more than fifteen years ago, when we first met, cast back to the time when all things were possible. Yes, we are older and wiser, but that spark of friendship was there, burning bright.
   How does that happen? How is it that Kaye and I have remained friends all these years without even seeing each other, and hardly speaking to each other until a few months ago? How is that possible when other relationships—including my marriage—have fallen away? The answer is this: We held no expectation of each other. Kaye did not hold it against me that I was out of the loop when she was having health problems a few years back. Likewise, I never considered her absent in my life when my parents died or I lost my job. In those times, if either one of us had reached out, we certainly would have been there for each other. We trusted that our friendship remained, waiting to be tapped when the need arose, like the Bat Signal Police Chief Gordon shines when Gotham City is in peril. And yet, somehow we knew that now, at this point in our lives, we did need each other again. And our need was mutual and fulfilled.
   In this way, friendship becomes a wonderful exertion of Buddhist Practice. When I feel the tug of need from someone in my life, I can hold up this example of unconditional love and examine my sense of attachment that is causing my unhappiness. Romantic relationships often carry the weight of expectations that we never foist on friends. Why is it that I can go for years without hearing from a girlfriend and not feel a twinge of slight, but if a boyfriend fails to call at the prescribed moment, or doesn't properly acknowledge a birthday, I feel disappointed? What tangles up romantic relationships in attachment? What is it about love that makes us so blind? Why do we ask so much more of our significant others than we do of our platonic friends? I mean, if my (future) boyfriend were to say, "Hey honey, I love you but I have some other things to do right now. I'll be back in ten years!" it's doubtful I'd respond by saying, "Okay, darlin', that's great! See ya when you get back." But why? If we really loved and trusted each other, why would it matter? Why is it that we expect our lovers to be there for every sniffle and laugh? Why do we require our mates to validate us constantly, and grow angry or distant when they do not meet our expectations?
   I don't have the answers to this double-standard, but asking the right questions is a good first step. As I move out into the world and begin dating again, I hope I can put into practice the lessons in loving-kindness that I've learned from my dear friend. When people truly care for each other, the love is just there. Unconditional. Constant. Bat Signal or no. True love is just there, ready and waiting when the need arises. There's definitely something to this double standard, and even if I don't know the whys or the hows right now, perhaps I'm finally getting to the heart of the matter.

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