It hit me square in the face the other night — midlife has changed me. It has sanded my rough edges into more rounded corners and provided me with opportunities for greater awareness. I had one of those “Aha!” moments that I’ve heard people speak of — okay, I’ve mainly heard Oprah speak of such epiphanies, but still, I had one! I can safely say that I do not think I had been open to this sort of thing until recently. Instead of being annoyed and bored while attending a fundraising event, in lieu of my usual whining and kvetching, I took some time amidst the chaos to make some observations, to reach some conclusions.
Of course the meal was lousy. The diet soda was flat and no doubt some off-label brand. (“Diet Smoke” maybe?) The coffee might have been drinkable, if the creamer had not arrived on a much, much later train.
The number of people that they had managed to pack into such a small space gave me a new appreciation for my ancestors — the Irish ones who came to America in steerage. I have a strange habit — I often admonish myself in “brogue”. Silently and in my best Irish accent, I kept hearing my inner voice say “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, Eileen! What the feck are ya doin’ here?”
Twelve of us were squished at a table that was probably meant for eight. A tin horn and a megaphone, neither of which I thought to throw in my purse, would have come in handy just for making simple requests — requests like, “Can you please plop some more of that there “Diet Smoke” into my thimble-sized glass? Thanks a million!” Engaging in any type of meaningful conversation with some of my oldest and dearest friends — the friends who had convinced me how much fun I would have throwing tickets into prize baskets for things I neither want nor have any use for — was, quite simply, out of the question.
When my number was drawn, it wasn’t me who noticed. Had it not been for one of my more alert companions, someone else would be enjoying “A Free Evening of Bingo!” in the future. And that’s when it hit me. That’s when I looked around the table and thought about how we’ve always had each other’s backs. Always.
I’ve known these women going on fifteen years and there has never been a time when we’ve let each other down. Not once. Not ever. It wouldn’t occur to us to do so.
We’ve been through a lot together. We’ve dealt with things like divorce, disease, addiction, legal trouble, caring for aging parents. Some of us have lost a parent or someone equally dear to us. We have all struggled with raising our children. Most of our career paths have changed. Many of us have experienced altered fortunes — some for the better, some for the worse. We have leaned on each other, spoken up for one who couldn’t or wouldn’t speak up for herself, cried with and for each other, and, most importantly, laughed with each other.
Truthfully, we have even good-naturedly laughed AT each other! There is almost nothing funnier than imagining your friend, once you know she wasn’t seriously injured, laying in a heap at the bottom of the basement stairs covered in dirty laundry. Being able to conjure this image each and every time you see her hobbling along in her lovely orthopedic boot? Hysterical.
Or the time that another friend in what I can only imagine was a moment of extreme haste and/or a dire mirror shortage, showed up at our children’s school wearing EVERY single color of the rainbow. Every single one. Explaining to her, as kindly as possible, that it was not, in fact, “ROYGBIV Day”, while trying NOT to turn your white sweatpants urine-colored? Priceless.
Don’t worry. They laugh at me, too. Mostly, though, they laugh with me.
When I was first married someone told me that the key to a successful marriage lies in finding balance. To elucidate this point, I was told to imagine that we were given two buckets — one full, one empty. In a good marriage, the person with the full bucket will cede half of its contents to the person with the empty bucket. Over time, one bucket might become fuller, the other emptier — the job of the person with the fuller bucket should always be to fill the other person’s bucket to the halfway line. In a good marriage, both parties should be generous givers and grateful recipients. This may well be the best piece of advice I have ever been given.
I have always taken notice of how the “bucket theory” applies to all of the relationships in my life. Over the years I’ve had to cut some people loose — the ones who are willing to extract the last drop from my bucket, the ones who are unable to part with any measure of theirs, or the ones who simply never noticed how empty mine had become. When I looked around the table the other night, it occurred to me that we had managed, not only through our ability to sense when someone else’s bucket has been in need of replenishment, but through our willingness to share the contents of our own, to create something miraculous — the lasting, enduring, and lifelong friendship.
It occurs to me now that I should have lifted my glass of “Diet Smoke” the other night and toasted these women. That I should have celebrated them by reciting my own version of The Irish Blessing. It would have gone something like this:
Here’s to you,
My dear and fabulous friends.
My very own “bucket brigade”.
Long may we live and laugh and cherish each other!
May I be there should you fall.
May mine be the hand you reach for
or the shoulder you lean on.’
Yours are the voices I want to hear
When times are trying.
Yours are the joyful faces I want to see
When the news is good.
Here’s to knowing that our buckets will never run dry!