A week ago I was excited. February break was about to start and my kids were going to be off all week. In an unusually organized tour de force, I had arranged to take a couple of days off work and pile the kids in the car and head to Chicago–well Skokie actually–to visit my best friend and former college roommate, Deena.
Deena is an amazing woman and friend. She and I were roommates at U/M way back in the dark ages when there was no wait at the computer centers on campus because everyone still typed their papers on Selectrics. Deena and I met on my first day of freshman year and we were fast friends despite or different backgrounds. Deena is a very conservative Jew and I am a very lapsed Catholic. She swore like a sailor, I blushed and said ‘Holy Cow!’. She attended every class and drank a lot of beer and I skipped class and drank a fair amount of beer. She got A’s in everything, I didn’t. And yet we became incredibly close friends and have remained so for over 25 years.
Our lives weren’t always in sync though. I married young, when I was 24, and she didn’t until she was 39 and as a result, we were at very different points in life for many years. She is an accomplished attorney and yet when she was in her early 30s, she took a year off from work and traveled the world, literally. She went from Europe to the Middle East to Australia to Hawaii and then back across the US for 12 months. She went on her own, not with a tour group or friends, and I was both envious and nervous for her. Deena is such a good person and friend that through her travels she met people with whom she still communicates regularly and one even traveled from Israel to attend her wedding. She is a true friend. Before she went on her world tour, she was consumed by work and admits that it was in part a compensation for the lack of depth in her personal life and she had become quite ‘independent’ and not in a good way. When she returned, she was relaxed and grounded and although she liked her work, she didn’t need to have that be her whole life, she wanted others in her life in a more complete way.
When she returned, we were more compatible again, she more relaxed in many ways and me older and more able to see the joys of the freedom her life provided. We continued to talk regularly, sometimes weekly and sometimes just a few times a year, all through our post college time. Several years ago, Deena found her soulmate in her husband Joe after waiting patiently for the absolute right man. He is a gem and I love him as I love her.
Deena and Joe have listened as I cried or raged over the last few years and have done so patiently and will love. They have held me and reassured me and treated me with kindness and love. They were the first I told that I was planning to file for divorce and Deena and Joe were not only supportive but sent me chocolates on the day I told Kevin I had filed knowing that would comfort me. They talked me through my decision, helped me weigh the options, and helped me see and accept that in order to be happy and truly myself this was the path I needed to take.
Last fall, after Deena and Joe knew I was filing but before the kids did, I took the kids with me to Deena’s stepson’s bar mitzvah (Joe’s son from a previous marriage). My kids have been to several bar mitzvahs but this one was the first in a very conservative community. They experienced the Hebrew Torah and prayers, Sam’s reflection on his Torah part and then saw a very traditional Kiddish lunch afterward. We went to the party in the evening (quite modern and fun) and my kids saw Deena and Joe in a way they never had before: as faithful parents and spouses with a community around them full of love and support. It was moving. We were planning to return for a quick visit this week of February break but decided at the last minute to cancel when my kids all got the stomach flu. (F-U-N)
I had really hoped to go during this somewhat unsettled time for them. All five of us are still living under the same roof and although Kevin and I are doing a good job keeping things not only civil and respectful but friendly, I wanted them to see that Sam, even following Joe’s divorce, is a happy kid and that his life didn’t end with his parents’ divorce, merely changed. Unfortunately that was not to be this week.
As if by divine intervention, I reconnected with a friend who is also divorced and with whom I could vent and share and feel the love and support I was hoping to find with Deena and Joe. What a wonderful gift. My kids weren’t able to connect with my friend’s kids to feel reassured, but I so enjoyed our time together and could see the light at the end of the tunnel both as a mom and a person.
At church last week, the focus was on making ‘love’ a verb. Acting to show your love by making others’ needs come first and remembering that falling in love is easy but staying in love and showing it is hard. As I was talking with my new old friend this week, we agreed it seems so easy to fall in love and yet neither of us could make our marriages work, in my case I couldn’t find a way to be myself and be embraced. As I look around, thinking about love and what makes it work, I return to Deena and Joe. They always put the other person’s needs first and because they both do so willingly and without keeping tally, they are happy and remain in love. I look at other families around me and see other examples of this sort of relationship in my friends Kristie and Mike, Sue and Tom, Kathleen and Mike. I see that all of these marriages work not only because they put each other first, but also because they put others first too. They have a community of friends and relatives that they support and love and help and do so without ever expecting anything in return. For Deena and Joe this is found in their conservative Jewish community, for others the community they love and support is not religious but rooted in their love of friends and a desire to give of themselves to them. It gives me hope that I can experience the verb ‘love’ and share my life with someone who will embrace me and for whom I would move mountains, who wants to be integrated in a ‘family’ of sorts in a community of friends and be devoted to those friends as we are to each other. I already feel this way about my kids of course and even with friends like Deena and Joe, but it seems to have eluded me in the closest relationship of my adult life. Maybe someday I will have another chance and being both older and wiser (and droopier!) I hope that I can find someone that will share this need to give ourselves to each other completely and without reservation and in the meantime I will nurture my community of friends, my ‘family’ of sorts, and surround myself with people I love, as a verb.