Today is the birthday of a most beloved friend of mine and I’d like to dedicate this post to her. Her unfailing love and faithful support throughout the last several decades has not only changed my life, but also saved it. When we met almost 30 years ago she saw value and beauty in me where no one else did. Being a survivor of severe childhood trauma herself, she recognized an agonizing history embedded within my soul and psyche — trauma I had yet to realize myself, let alone work through.
We share the same first name, were devoted to our faith, were both married to abusive men in right-wing churches, and each had four children. It was she who first found the courage to take her children and leave her husband. And then it was she who first found the courage to begin questioning her faith and the teachings we’d so devotedly embraced. Of the two of us, it was she who first decided she could be so much more, and deserved so much better.
We only had about eight years of living in close proximity and then our paths took us in opposite geographic directions — she’s now on the East Coast and I’m on the West. In the ensuing 21 years we have physically seen each other just two times. But our friendship has remained rock solid and unshakable. We talk regularly and have seen each other through countless heartbreaks, trauma, crises, upheavals, spiritual changes, and joy.
It is she who has believed in me, encouraged me, admired me, cried with me, prodded me, questioned me, and never lost faith in me. It is she who has mothered me unconditionally, holding space for me to face and explore the depths of cruelty and betrayal in my past — wounds that left me isolated and a bit “prickly” on the outside. She never gave up on me.
It was she who awakened with a start in the middle of the night in her home in Boston and began praying for me with wrenching sobs, having seen me lying on my bed in Louisiana blue and dead. At that same time, in Louisiana, I was in the throes of a miscarriage. I was hemorrhaging and didn’t know it. My three children were all sleeping and around midnight my husband went to bed because “there was no point in both of us being up.” We didn’t have health care (he was giving all our extra money to the church), and so didn’t want me to go to the emergency room because of what it would cost. There was blood all over the bathroom and I was rapidly weakening and losing the ability to think clearly.
After a bit I decided that the church elders were right and I just needed to “trust God” and go to bed. This fear I was feeling was “of the devil” and I shouldn’t “dishonor the name of God” by listening to it. I went to my room and sat on the edge of my side of the bed but when I went to lie down something stopped me. A very small voice inside was saying “Go call the emergency room” while another voice was saying to “have faith in God.” Back and forth it went for a minute or so, with the first voice growing louder. And so I got up, went out to the kitchen, and called the emergency room. I had difficulty speaking clearly and tried to describe to the nurse what was happening — at which point she told me I was hemorrhaging and that it was urgent I come in immediately. Long story short, we did go in and my life was saved. But make no mistake, had I listened to that other “voice” and gone to sleep, I would not have awakened.
It is this dear soul-friend whose unwavering friendship and love has provided the ground in which I could heal and grow and come alive. It is she who remained at my side through years of darkness and isolation and fear — even when she went on to remarry and it would have been easy and understandable to gradually let go of our friendship. It is she who has taught me what it is to love and to be a friend. Most importantly, her love has enabled me to see and know the incredible beauty within my own soul, and embrace myself with love. She has taught me how to be my own friend, and that is priceless.
Priceless because love of and for ourselves is the only foundation from which we can reach out to and love the world around us. According to the Buddha, “You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” With this kind of loving-friendliness or loving-kindness toward yourself, you can then truly love others. And isn’t that, more than anything else, what is needed in this world?
It is because of this amazing human being that I’ve learned “I am larger and better than I thought. I did not think I held so much goodness” (Walt Whitman). It is my hope and prayer that this love and goodness, which has been nurtured by my dear friend, will radiate outward to more and more people — people who are caught in darkness, loneliness, and isolation — and that one day she will know that in loving me she loved many into the light.
And so I wish the happiest of birthdays to my dearest soul-friend, Lori:
Like the joy of the sea coming home to shore,
May the relief of laughter rinse through your soul.
As the wind loves to call things to dance,
May your gravity be lightened by grace.
Like the dignity of moonlight restoring the earth,
May your thoughts incline with reverence and respect.
As water takes whatever shape it is in,
So free may you be about who you become.
As silence smiles on the other side of what’s said,
May your sense of irony bring perspective.
As time remains free of all that it frames,
May your mind stay clear of all it names.
May your prayer of listening deepen enough
to hear in the depths the laughter of god.”
(John O’Donohue, “Equilibrium, A Blessing” from To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings)