I opened my first gifts of the season tonight. Four beautifully wrapped gifts; none extravagant, but all special because each one was thoughtfully chosen and handed to me by a long-time friend.
We’ve been friends for nearly 13 years. In our 30’s and 40’s now, the youngest of us was just 22 when we became friends. It started as a small group, awkward and forced. Soon it blossomed into breakfast once a week, and although we’ve morphed from weekly into something more like monthly over the years, we still make each other a priority. Tonight we gathered for what I think is our 10th “Chica Christmas.” We each came with our culinary contributions of Italian take-out, Champagne, chocolate desserts, and our personal contributions of sarcasm, delight, wit, dry-humor, and wisdom. In what felt like mere moments—sacred moments—6 hours slipped by with not a silent minute to be found, laughter and chatter spilling over deep into the evening.
At almost midnight, we piled on coats and gloves, dug out car keys and packed up leftover Eggplant Parmesan for our kids and husbands. There we were in the kitchen, bundled and saddled for the drive home when one of us suggested a group photo. Someone else remarked that we’ve never taken one. Thirteen years of friendship and not ONE photo. What?
As I clicked my seat belt and started the car, I heard the familiar chime of my phone alerting me to a text message. I pulled it out to see the picture. My breath caught for a second at the 5 smiling faces. I put the car in reverse, pulled onto the street, and headed home. About halfway there it hit me:
That photo? That was the real gift of the night.
There we are, the five of us, frozen forever in that one moment in my friend’s kitchen, nourished both body and soul by good food and better friendship.
The photo is one-dimensional at best. It’s not even on paper, captured digitally, floating in a cloud of pixels and megabytes, barely existing outside of our iPhones.
But the weight of this photo, for me, lies in its depth.
Looking at the photo again, I see deep into the faces and deep into the bonds of friendship. I see marriages, children, miscarriages, adoptions, the pain of infertility and marital strain, the loss of parents, divorce, birth, death, job-love and job-hate, weight issues and money trouble. So much laughter and more than a few tears. Bacon and chocolate, because that’s the cornerstone of all good friendships. I see in the eyes of each of these women a thousand layers of pain and joy, struggle and triumph, weakness and strength. We know each other’s stories and we hold them for each other like water cupped in hands over a deep well, not wanting any of it to slip into the darkness, knowing it’s delicate and fragile and could evaporate.
You can’t manufacture this kind of friendship. It’s the kind of relationship that only comes after years of time together, hours of prayer for each other, moments upon moments of sitting next to each other with our cups of coffee, our newborns, our bad news, our broken hearts, our laughter through tears. It’s the kind of relationship most people long for but I’m afraid very few actually have.
Thank you friends, for the gift.
Photo (Flickr CC) by Beverley Goodwin