|Susie Young at Heart||
Friendship Makes a Great Travel Companion
I recently took a position with a large, multinational company. The role was interesting, the offer more than fair, but it was the possibility of connecting with people across the world that made the opportunity irresistible.
Taking a new job meant 9-5 in an office—something I had fought for years. But it also meant the chance to collaborate on a regular basis with the smart, friendly teams I was already getting to know through consultancy. As an introvert, I knew daily team work would nudge me in the right direction.
I quickly realized that physically being in the office, running into coworkers in the break room and hallways and having visitors pop by my desk to chat were exchanges I missed after spending the past year 'holed up' in my basement office.
The first chance to travel with my coworkers came shortly after I started—a trip to the West Coast to meet with partners, clients, and coworkers from as far as Cairo, Australia, and Germany. And for someone who typically recharges with a solo run or my news app, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this experience.
After a long day of presentations and doing my part to host our traveling guests, all I wanted to do the first night was slip up to my room, watch TV and take a bath. But instead I was invited for dinner with a large group. I quickly found the energy and really enjoyed learning about my coworkers' lives, opinions and aspirations.
The next day, although looking forward to breaking away with a nice morning run, I was texted with instructions to meet-in the lobby to join a group run. And that turned out to be a delight too. The days that followed brought me together with more people, building more camaraderie.
One gets to know another side of person when traveling together that may have been missed during the hours of 9 and 5. And these glimpses into each other's lives broaden the range of conversation that leads to friendship. There will likely be many more times to travel with or to these new coworkers. And being thrust beyond my comfort zone so early on will make it much easier to acclimate.
I will continue to accept invites and organize activities with my coworker friends. We've even started a lunch run club as a result of learning that many of us share this interest. I'm thrilled to turn a new page in my career at an organization where genuine collaboration and friendships are the norm!
The Sister of My Heart
We live in a mobile society, and many of us live hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away from our blood family. Sometimes when that happens we choose others to fill our family roles.
More than 20 years ago, the sister of my heart entered my life. We are now closer than I am with my blood sister. We seemed to fall into it – there was no real plan. But after I moved to Minnesota (5 months pregnant), and she found herself single and pregnant, it seemed natural to invite her to move here. We would help her in exchange for childcare.
Now 20 years later, our lives are intertwined as if we were blood sisters. We are aunts to each others’ daughters. My daughter calls her parents Abeula and Abeulo. Her daughter is my niece and my parents are her grandparents. The girls (born 6 months apart) are cousins. In kindergarten (the one and only time they were in the same class together) her daughter stated, “I don’t need to learn to read, Elley knows how.”
For years we shared a duplex. Now she lives down the block with her husband – who has been drawn into our family too. We share a car – I need it during the day for work. She needs it at night (she works from home during the day). It made that “second” car affordable for both families. Sunday dinners are joint family meals and we plan at least one joint vacation a year.
Just like blood sisters we don’t always see eye to eye. We’ve had our blow-ups. And, yet, just like sisters, there isn’t anyone else who can better dry our tears, lend a shoulder or listening ear, or just sit around drinking tea while gossiping. My “sister” is the sister of my heart – deeply embedded in my heart, soul and life and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Mi Casa es tu Casa
In 2011 I had the privilege of spending a semester in Cuernavaca, Mexico to study social work through a program of the Center for Global Education. I went expecting to immerse myself in Mexican culture, improve my Spanish, and to analyze social change through a Latin American lens. What I didn't necessarily expect was to develop a lasting friendship with Karla, a social work student from Mexico City who I met toward the end of the semester during an exchange with social work students at La Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico (The National Autonomous University of Mexico).
Ironically, we barely spoke when we met in person in Mexico, but when I returned home to Minnesota, we got to know each other well over long facebook chats. We exchanged photographs of our homes and cities, gave each other tips on our respective languages, and shared with each other our social work projects and vocational aspirations. In January 2012, I worked up the courage to ask to visit Karla at her home in Mexico City. Karla graciously agreed, and during the week between January-term and my final semester of college, I embarked on my Mexican adventure. Karla's loving family welcomed me into their cozy urban home. I shared meals with the family, helped Karla's little sister with her English homework, and explored the city with Karla.
Since that first visit in 2012 we have met twice again. Once in Buenos Aires, of all places, because we just happened to be there at the same time in 2013 (I on a year-long volunteer assignment and she on a few-week educational trip), and another time back in Mexico City in March 2014. Karla knows she is welcome in Minneapolis any time, but due to the injustices of our foreign policy and the Mexican economy, obtaining a tourist visa would be difficult and extremely expensive for Karla (not to mention the cost of airfare). Now that I'm becoming a real adult with a real job and real bills, I don't have as much flexibility to travel as I did before. But don't worry, I have a feeling I'll be back.
Recently, I went to Siberia to see my relatives. A long, long time ago I finished high school there, and I was desperate to see my classmates again after almost twenty-five years since graduation. And so while I was back home, I decided to get everyone together. Of course, by this time they had moved to different cities and even to different countries.
I posted an announcement on the Russian social media website called Odnoklassniki (Classmates) that I was organizing a party for all of my classmates. I had the phone number of only one classmate, so I called her, and then she called someone else, and that person called someone else, and in the end we had called everyone—all twenty-seven people.
I reserved a big table at a restaurant, and on the date of the party everyone gathered—sixteen people came. We all went to school in the USSR (which doesn’t exist anymore), and now, nearly twenty-five years later, we were meeting in Russia.
Of the sixteen, only four men came, and they brought roses for all the women; they requested songs from our youth from the DJ for us. We ate and danced, but mostly talked and told stories, sharing our achievements and successes the whole evening. We all said something about our lives, and that was very impressive because we got separated when we were very young, almost kids. Now everyone has a family, a job and their own unique adult life.
Everyone was very happy and grateful for the party being organized. We were really happy to see each other, and I’m sure that every single one of us will remember this party for the rest of our lives. For us it was a very big event because we hadn’t seen each other for almost twenty-five years.
Susan Ault, Minnesota
She shared history, her front parlor, her hours and her heart. She considered me a girlfriend, a neighbor, a peer, a friend. Age barriers were penetrated. I never knew her age, but she always knew mine, my teacher, my activities and my stories.
Long fingernails deeply coated in several layers of nail polish graced her hands. She'd set to the ritual of polishing them each night as we talked. She'd leave the cuticle a half moon and oh, so gingerly dry each nail.
Gracie went to Auntie's house as soon as the weather turned bad. Auntie's was a safe haven for her. She made trips on the pretense of keeping Auntie company during the storms. She'd have to cut my time with her short on those nights. The old black car would come out of her hidden garage and off she'd go, night bag in hand. I hated the rain for taking my Gracie away.
Her screen door was always open, just like her ears to a girl only 7 or 9 or 11. Little did I know I'd love her so, even at 27, 47 and 64. Funny thing, though. I never did find out her age...even the obituary didn't say. All I knew was that Gracie had gone. Taken by Auntie to the grave following her death only months before, they all said.
I felt the sadness again as the call from Auntie came. I wanted her here with me. The rain came once too often and all I saw was my soaking from tears. I have never liked the rain.
Gracie made more of an impact on my childhood than just about any other person in that small town where I grew up. She taught me history, the true use of a front parlor, and how one shares her heart. To this day I always paint my fingernails with the half moon showing, but only when it rains.
The Gift of Serendipity
Michelle Shaw, Minneapolis
Two years ago, shortly after I had to go on long-term disability due to the worsening of my cervical dystonia symptoms, I decided to use my timeshare points to travel to warm and sunny Mazatlan in March. While I was traveling alone, my main goals were to relax, recover from our frigid Minnesota winter, and feel better.
For some reason, I tend to meet and connect with more people when I'm on vacation than I do in my hometown. Once again, this trip didn't disappoint. My second day there, I met an older couple who were member-owners of this resort, along with the husband's twin brother and sister. We often dined together, and it was great to feel like I was taken care of while I was there since my new friends were my parents' age. Before I left, we exchanged contact information, which I regretfully lost. Oh well...
A year later, I flew back to Mazatlan to experience a different resort owned by the same company. As I stood by the pool that first day, watching the waves crash against the shore, I thought about how alone I felt. Just as the loneliness was creeping in, I turned to my left and there stood my four older friends whom I had met the year before at the smaller resort. We couldn't believe our eyes! Someone was watching out for me, and I enjoyed spending time with them once again. Sometimes, all you need is a little luck to revive a friendship or to remind you that they've been standing right there in front of you all along.
A True Befriending
Maureen Swenson, St. Paul
I attend a weekly mom's group at my church, which in and of itself felt like a huge risk when I started this past fall. Before then I had been reluctant to join any parenting group. Even though I'd met most of these other moms before—and had pleasant quick conversations on Sunday mornings—I was terrified the first week I attended the group. I put on a friendly smile and sat quietly the first few meetings, and each time someone would reach out to me and tell me they were glad I’d come. I’ve gotten pretty comfortable now.
Right around Christmas there was a newcomer to our group who said a few things that the group seemed unsure how to handle. I wanted to comment on what she’d said but didn’t feel like the group was the right setting. She also said she would not be coming back again, so again I put on a friendly smile afterwards and just started talking to her. We ended up staying 3 hours past the meeting time talking, laughing, crying and sharing our stories. This past week she did come back. And I could tell the group was as happy to have her there as I was.
A Friend in My Pocket
Ours is the most unconventional of friendships. It started, as so many do, with an open-hearted offer of help and has become a beautiful source of support and love for both of us. We bonded over our mutual love of a fictional character, and realized that we had a mutual love for so many other things. Family. Kids. Books. Films. Music. Sarcasm. All of these things constantly bring us together. And the greatest lesson she’s ever taught me is that true friendship can be found in the unlikeliest of places.
Over 5 years ago, another friend recommended that I read an online fanfiction, swearing I’d love it. As one who’d rather read than breathe, I jumped in with both feet and read what my soon-to-be new friend was writing. As much as I adore my sweet friend, she is the first to tell you that she is a story-teller, and the writing can be a struggle. Out of the blue, I decided to take a chance. I private messaged her on Facebook, offering my help with the whole grammar and punctuation thing. The rest, as they say, is history. We spent hours chatting, editing, messaging, and talking.
We delved into everything. The story was merely a vehicle, facilitating deep discussions about personal trauma, family joys, financial struggles, and anything else that two women could possibly discuss. I talked her through the joy and terror of finding out she was pregnant. She talked me through every time I’d ever clam up and shut down over a flashback. We shared the mutual joy of posting her stories and basking in the love and joy of her fans. We shared each other’s joys as mamas. All without speaking on the phone or getting together for coffee.
Our friendship exists almost entirely online. We’ve actually met in person only twice. But, I consider her one of my closest friends and confidants. We chat via Facebook or Messenger every day, sometimes multiple times a day. Another friend once asked me if I wish she lived closer. The reality is, in some ways, there’s no way she could. Thanks to the joys of modern communications, I carry her around in my pocket almost 24/7. Friendship doesn’t depend on proximity. It depends on nurturing the preciousness of the relationship itself.
A Return far Greater than Gold
I’ve been lucky enough to gain friendships of all ages over my life. Perhaps that stems from having my only sister ten years my senior. Maybe it was my elderly neighbor Elsie, a beautifully happy “grandma” with a special yellow ‘70s Tupperware container always stocked with cookies. Or the young couple next door just beginning their family. For the next four years I spent my after school hours in their home, playing with the eventually three kids. Kathleen always treated me as a friend instead of a child, and her kids were in turn my friends too.
Years rolled on but it wasn’t until I was 30 that I received the greatest gift from friendship of all. I met Rhonda through a church program that pairs women 18+ to befriend and share the month’s message with other women. At first Rhonda held an air of reservation around us. She was two or three decades older than me, and despite her smiles and politeness I could sense a lining of resistance in her sarcastic humor. I decided to look past it and over the next several months we bonded as we visited and served.
Eventually she became a true friend even though our lives were so opposite. She had ten older children and I had one toddler. She had a beautiful spacious home with a handful of farm animals and I had one dog in our tiny three-bedroom house. And yet caring personalities, common spirituality, and unity in service burst through like my little boy’s chubby fingers during a bubble-popping fest.
One day after a visit we sat in the car chatting about fertility treatments as I was experienced and she was curious. When the science talk was exhausted, I exhaled loudly and voiced my frustration with being financially strapped already and therefore unable to afford saving for our next frozen-embryo transfer. We wanted to give our little Sam a sibling. There was a thoughtful moment of silence after which Rhonda pulled a hundred dollar bill from her pocket and told me she knew we could do it if we just had faith and started doing what we could –and she wanted to make our first contribution. I cried. Later that night my husband cried with me.
Our baby fund began that day with a hundred dollar bill and a heartfelt prayer. Eight months, and many financial miracles later, we were blessed with a successful pregnancy. My beautiful Amelia Rose is now a towheaded, rosy-cheeked, 4-toothed bundle of energy that lights up our lives like the sun in the desert sky. She’s a treasure encouraged by an unlikely friendship, worth far more than gold.
Dr. Regina Watkins
Tonise Partridge, Decatur, Alabama
From the moment I walked into her educational research class, Dr. Regina Watkins became one of the most influential people in my life. At 4’ 11” – maybe – and less than 100 pounds soaking wet, she was tiny, but in stature only. Dr. Watkins was the epitome of the old Southern proverb, “Dynamite comes in small packages!”
I loved her bubbly personality, her assertiveness, her confidence in knowing exactly who she was, and her ability to live life on her own terms. She was an amazing teacher, too - approachable and compassionate, but no-nonsense with high expectations… Exactly the way I operated in my own classroom. So, I was drawn to her both professionally and personally. Deep in my spirit, I knew we were destined to be friends - regardless of the fifteen year age gap or the fact that she was in a higher professional bracket.
So, on the last day of the final class I was required to take under Dr. Watkins while pursuing my master’s degree, I walked up to the desk she was standing behind and boldly proclaimed, “Dr. Watkins, I don’t have many women friends. Actually, most of my friends are men. But, I want you to be my friend.” I will never forget her response. “Oh, Tonise! I would love that! I’ve been praying for some Godly friends!”
That was the summer of 1998. Regina and I have been friends for 17 years! Since then, men have entered and exited both of our lives, marriage and career moves have put miles of distance between us, and we’ve suffered loss, heartbreak, and adversity that produced growth, endurance, and unwavering faith. Through it all, Regina has remained a constant source of trust, encouragement, and counsel! She is my original “Go-To Girl”… My beach buddy… My BFF #1!
A Friendship through Family Ties
Mary Loomis, Minnesota
Friendships develop not only through meetings at work, school and hobbies, but with family ties, or in my case with my sister-in-law. We are bonded together as family members; I choose to socialize with my sister-in-law with our shared interest that goes beyond spending time together “during the holidays.”
I enjoy the difference my sister-in-law has from her brother (my husband) and this includes playing cards, board games or going to the Minnesota State Fair. I especially like living vicariously through her travels all around the world.
While my friendship with my sister-in-law likely wouldn’t have happened without my marriage, I believe I would have a missing part of myself if she wasn’t part of my life. She has many attributes I treasure which include her writing, singing, and outgoing friendly personality, but what I treasure the most is having fun in life together.