I have written before about friendship and how lucky I am to still have friends from a hundred years ago when we were pig-tailed girls in school but friendship can be a delicate construct. I started thinking about this after reading a recent post by a friend about how friendships are maintained and our expectations of them which is how I ended up writing about forgiveness – or not. As I’m writing this on Good Friday, the topic is a timely one. With all the hoo-ha surrounding it, non-believers probably think Christmas is the biggest event in the Christian calendar but it isn’t. Easter is the big kahuna because without Christ’s Resurrection, there would be no reason to follow Jesus as he would have been just another dead rebel. The whole point is that God sent his Son to forgive our sins and ensure our redemption so the whole concept of forgiveness is a ‘big thing’ and not only in Christianity. Buddhists believe that forgiveness is a critical step towards achieving a peaceful state of being and the Qur’an teaches that forgiveness is a superior moral trait. “Turn the other cheek.” is the yellow brick road. “Forgive and forget.” But what if you can’t. Forgive. Or forget.
In 2010 I severed a friendship and even five years later I can still feel the disappointment and anger as though it were yesterday. We don’t do things for our friends expecting to be repaid but I think it’s OK to consider any equal relationship a two-way street. My friend’s life was always in turmoil. When she discovered her husband cheating, I consoled her by phone from America, where I was living at the time. Her next partner had a vengeful, bitter ex-wife so I was a sounding board for her frustrations and copywriter and editor for mountains of correspondence. Despite having a son together, that relationship ended and it was more commiserating and letter-writing as the miserable sod tried shirking his financial responsibilities in any way he could. I suppose the rot started setting in when, as her son’s godmother, I was asked to be his sponsor at his Confirmation. To reflect the importance of the occasion and because his mother had mentioned he was becoming interested in photography, I gave him a digital camera. And this was years ago, before you could get them out of vending machines. I certainly wasn’t expecting a gilt-edged letter of gratitude but I thought I might at least get a phone call…. Nothing, nought, nada, zip, zilch, zero. Am I belabouring the point? Not even a bloody cup of tea after the ceremony. Her choice in men was appalling and the next one was a certified narcissist. More listening, more commiserating. Then my father died. And she sent me a text message. Some of you will understand exactly why that was the straw that broke the camel’s back while others will wonder why it was such a big deal. It’s hard to put into words how totally let down I felt but there was now a trench in the sand that swallowed forgiveness whole and was never likely to throw it back up.
On the other hand, I have a girlfriend I have known since Kindergarten and I have forgiven her a myriad of transgressions, big and small. When I became engaged, many moons ago, my American husband’s lawyer recommended that we get married as quickly as possible to start all the paperwork for my move to the U.S. and application for my Green Card so my first wedding was an intimate affair of only 10 people in a divine little stone church. (We had the bigger, glitzier ceremony two months later so I have two wedding anniversaries – both of which I now manage to forget…..) S. was supposed to be my bridesmaid and witness but not only was she late, thus missing the entire thing, she had the audacity to be upset because we didn’t wait. My best gay friend ended up being my bridesman and I was as happy as a pig in mud. But my husband was furious and where I laughed it off as a memorable part of the day, he did not forgive her for years after finally accepting that I really hadn’t cared and I wasn’t just saying that because we had been friends for so long. And I think therein lies the difference. By that time, S. and I had 29 years invested in our friendship. That’s a lot of secrets and memories and laughter to lose. It would be like excising great chunks of your past with nothing to fill the holes.
People suffer the most tremendous losses due to violence and yet extend forgiveness to the perpetrators. They are obviously in some state of grace that I can’t begin to imagine. The generally accepted position is that without forgiveness, you can’t truly “move on” but in my totally unprofessional yet totally eloquent opinion, I think that’s a load of horse manure. I believe you can feel sadness, anger, disappointment and a kaleidoscope of other emotions and still lead a “whole” life. Sometimes not “letting it go” is fuel for a fire that changes everything.
It’s complicated. I’m sure everyone has a story. Wait, is that the time? Forgive me, I have to run.
Yesterday I went to a funeral. A friend’s mother. She was 88, frail, with dementia. It’s a bitter pill we have to swallow, aging, but, as the cliché goes, it’s better than the alternative – although perhaps less so towards the end. As is the way now, there was a slide show of her life. She was gorgeous – model gorgeous and very fond of dancing – when Sydney still had dance halls. So hard to pay tribute to a life in half an hour. My own mother died at 85, frail, with dementia. She was gorgeous – model gorgeous – with a gap between her front teeth like Lauren Hutton. When she died I would fall asleep clutching her wedding ring and when my father died three years later, I had his wedding ring fused with hers so I have something visible to hold the invisible.
Most eulogies are a timeline of someone’s life – facts, figures – the skeleton of our years here. It was a torment deciding what to write about my mother because those final words circle the universe forever and I didn’t want to talk about the skeleton, I wanted to talk about the flesh and bones. So, once more for you mum because love never ends.
” The danger in writing a eulogy, especially for someone like mum who had such a long life and whom you so love, is that you feel you need to cover everything in their lives to somehow “do them justice” and it can’t be done – not even if you had hours to say what is supposed to be said in these 5 or 10 minutes so I thought to myself, how would I respond if a stranger asked me to describe my mother and only gave me one sentence in which to do it”.
And the amazing thing is, I didn’t even hesitate. I would simply say, “She was a good woman”. At face value, you might think it a rather old-fashioned, almost mediocre description but sometimes it is the small, common words that we use all the time – and not always with much thought – that carry the most meaning.
So, here are some definitions from the dictionary for that one seemingly simple word and when you hear them, you will appreciate why it is such a fitting tribute to my mum:
Of high or superior quality Worthy of respect, honourable, admirable
Attractive Competent, skilled
Reliable Genuine, true
Pleasant, agreeable Of moral excellence, upright
Loyal, sympathetic Dependable
Warm-hearted, considerate Kind, gentle, gracious
Now before I make her sound too saintly, I must say, she did have a temper but children tend to bring that out in you. I know this will come as a shock to some of you but I have been known to be a little stubborn and headstrong and for a few years of my life, I thought my name had been changed to “asina”. For those of you without the benefit of Italian, it means “donkey” or “mule”.
My husband’s favourite memory of my mother is her rather brutally honest observation to him before we got married: “Daniela’s wonderful as long as she gets her own way and when she doesn’t, she turns into a viper”. I guess she thought that forewarned was forearmed.
She laughed, loudly and often. She had a dry, wicked sense of humour. She sang as she did the housework. She hated cooking. She loved my father faithfully and unwaveringly for over 52 years and had that love returned. She was, the most amazing mother, and in her honour, I would like to read a poem entitled, “A Mother’s Love”
A mother’s love determines how We love ourselves and others.
There is no sky we’ll ever see Not lit by that first love.
Stripped of love, the universe Would drive us mad with pain;
But we are born into a world That greets our cries with joy.
How much I owe you for the kiss That told me who I was!
The greatest gift–a love of life– Lay laughing in your eyes.
Because of you my world still has The soft grace of your smile;
And every wind of fortune bears The scent of your caress. ”
One day, someone will be talking like this about our lives – make sure you give them a wealth of material to work with.
I was trying to think of an analogy for the past weekend – because, let’s be honest – who doesn’t like a good analogy when they can get one? So here it is: last Saturday and Sunday were like the pages of an open book…offering up different scenes and characters but belonging to one story.
One of my most endearing characteristics and the one which probably drives my organized and regimented husband most demented is that I leave everything until the last minute – paying bills, booking holidays, grocery shopping for guests…. I have been the same way since….ummm…. forever. “Thriving under pressure” I think they call it. 3,000 word essays at university were started three days before they were due with pages and pages and pages of photocopying highlighted and annotated and extended library stays fuelled only by pumpkin seeds and water. I remember one particularly splendid effort of writing final footnotes whilst on the train to deliver an English essay by its deadline. Good times, good times.
Anyway, the point is, my girlfriend and her two kids (Well, I use the term loosely. Her son is 16 and her daughter, 20) were coming for lunch on Saturday to celebrate her birthday and I did the shopping that morning, getting home just in time to unload the groceries and wipe down the toilet – as any good hostess would! When they arrived, both the dog and I showered them with kisses, I shoved a glass of champagne into her hand, saw her son off with a soft drink to another room to play video games with my boy and told her daughter to help herself to whatever she wanted from the fridge while I made the salad.
I think she managed a few sips of bubbly and a chat with my husband before she and her daughter were up at the bench peeling prawns. That’s right – she got to celebrate her birthday by cleaning the poop chutes from a kilo and a half of prawns. Kinda makes you wanna come over, doesn’t it?
But that’s just what happens with family. We may not be related but I have known her for 42 years – exactly three quarters of my life. And as wonderful as that is, I don’t like to dwell on it too much as that would mean acknowledging how much and how quickly time has passed since we met that first year of High School! Our trail then winds its way through 21sts, jobs, boyfriends, weddings, holidays, disappointments, dramas and every conceivable kind of celebration. I was at the party where she met her husband. Truth be told, I quite fancied him myself but he fancied her so that was that. I held her children as babies, listened as her marriage ended.
Any friendship is a gift but a friendship that spans close to a lifetime is a blessing. It’s a shared connection with your youth, your past; a history that is never far from the surface. To the outside world, the numbers and experience tell a different story but we still see in each other the teenage school girls that we were and sometimes still behave accordingly! It’s not about living in the past but about having someone that lived that past with you – the smoking, the all-nighters, the adventures, the bad relationships, the good relationships, the parties, the risks …. all the stuff you do when you’re young and think you’re invincible. So when our kids roll their eyes because they think we are the most boring and clueless people in the universe – EVER – we just look at each other, roll our eyes and think, “If only they knew…”.
“The best mirror is an old friend” – George Herbert
PS: Are you asking, “What happened to Sunday?” It’s like a soap opera – coming in the next episode!