I have been remembering a scene from my childhood. For the last few days, this particular moment has been nudging me at the oddest moments. The memory is so vivid, I can almost smell the dinner waiting for me on the table. The memory is set in my parents kitchen. I was probably an eighth-grader, 14 years old. Dinner was on the table, and we were about to sit down and eat. I was standing next to the table talking on the corded phone that was mounted on the wall next to the counter. My dad was looking at me, and he wasn’t very pleased. He had asked me to finish up my phone call so that we could all sit down and eat together. I don’t remember who I was talking to. It was probably my friend, Kara. (Ugh….I hate to even use the word friend in association with that girl!) Well, whoever it was…they were not too happy that I had to get off of the phone in the middle of whatever extremely important middle school tale they were telling. I kept saying, “I have to go, Okay?” And my dad was saying, “Don’t ask OK. Just say Goodbye.” I was trying to please both this demanding teenaged girl AND my father all at the same time. It was impossible, and I was stuck in the middle. I kept telling Kara (or whoever) that I had to go (OKAY?) and she kept talking. Meanwhile, my dad, who NEVER got mad at me, WAS getting madder by the second. If I remember the story correctly, my dad walked over and flicked down the silver bar that hung up the phone. I was horrified. I could imagine Kara calling up all of the other girls in our little group. “Pam hung up on me.” Or…”Pam’s dad is psycho. He made her get off the phone to EAT DINNER.”
My middle school years were a turbulent time. I was in the “most popular” group, and it was horrible. Girls are so darn mean to each other at that age, especially at that particular social echelon. In eight grade, there was a vote among the student body for a number of silly things: Best Couple, Cutest Boy, Cutest Girl and so on. I was voted “Most Popular Girl.” When I came home to tell my mother, she said, “The way you treat people, the way you act, I can’t believe you have ANY friends.” Well, that’s my mom for you! What she said rang true, though. It made me think about what kind of person I really was. What kind of friend was I? I attended all the right slumber parties, but I hated it. I had a cute boyfriend, but he was a mindless jock that didn’t even interest me.
The summer before high school, I realized how unhappy I was with my friends and with MYSELF. When I look back on that summer, I look back with pride. I was a young girl who was on the brink of a major change. I took my life back into my own hands. I realized that my dad had been right. “Just say Goodbye.” It was as simple as that.
I spent the summer before my freshman year in high school doing what I enjoyed. I didn’t go hang out at the baseball diamond with the other girls to watch the jocks. I hated that kind of thing. Instead, I remember playing a LOT of piano that summer. I planted a garden. I went to spend a couple of weeks at my grandma’s house. I cultivated friendships that summer based on the people who I truly liked, not their level of popularity. I remember calling a girl named Kim and explaining to her that I wanted to hang out with her because I liked her. How weird is that for a 14-year-old?
I have good memories of that summer. I think of it as the summer I re-positioned my life. The changes I made that summer impacted all of my high school years. When I went back to school that fall, I was a new, more self-confident person. I joined choir again. I joined the Drama Club. I spent my time with people who were like-minded and who were actually nice to me. I had friendships based on friendship, not popularity. Yes, some of my friends were out-and-out nerds, but they were wonderful friends.
I have been thinking a great deal over the past few months about what true friendship really means. Having horrible life experiences really weeds out the REAL friends from the casual acquaintances. Once again, it makes me think of orbits. Some friendships sail out of our daily orbit from time to time, but when a friend is really needed, they come back like shining stars. Other friendships are part of the orbit of daily life, but when the going gets tough they speed out of the orbit and are nowhere to be found.
I often remember my daughter Grace’s funeral. It was a cold winter day very close to Christmas. The funeral was in a remote country church an hour’s drive from our hometown. It still hurts my heart to remember the number of friends who were not able to give up an afternoon during the holiday season to be by our side as we laid our dear daughter to rest. On the other hand, there were others, who I would never have imagined even cared, who made the trip and touched our hearts. I will never forget a dear man from our town who made a cross from pine bows to lay on her grave. I saw him as I sat in the pew waiting for the ceremony to begin. One of the few memories I have of that day is seeing him pass by the window of the church with a cross of pine bows carried on his back. I looked past Grace’s casket and out through the window. I thought of Jesus carrying the cross as I watched that man trudge up the hill to the cemetery behind the church. This one good deed has lasted a lifetime in my heart. It’s almost 24 years later now, and that good man is no longer alive. He died two days after my father’s funeral. I spent Christmas Eve morning crying at his funeral, but my heart remembered with love and kindness how he touched my life. While I had not seen him often over the years, his act of friendship will forever be special to me.
Through the years, I have been amazed time after time by the people who have proven to be true friends. Often times, it has not been those whom I most imagined would be there when I needed a friend. Thankfully, my best friends don’t let me down, and while we may lose touch from time to time, they are there, a part of my life like family.
I’m feeling a little bit like that eight grade girl again this summer. I have been trying to please too many people. I’m not sure if some of them are worth my effort. Are they really my friends, or I am once again trying so very hard to be liked or to be popular? Thirty years later, and again I am feeling like that 14-year-old girl who was so afraid of rejection. Once again, I am hearing my dad’s words ringing through my head. “Just say Goodbye.”
I wish I could plant a garden, but I don’t have time. I wish I could go spend a few weeks with Grandma, but she is no longer there. This summer will be different from that summer so long ago, but I am determined to once again make this a summer of change.