Friends through life and death
I am on the plane on the way back from New York City where I attended a funeral in Brooklyn. One of my best friends from high school had a baby who was born 13 weeks early and lived for only seven weeks.That sort of puts things in perspective.”You do sort of get tired of contemplating your own navel,” my mom said when I called her during a brief moment alone. “It’s sort of a sign of stunted development, that you’re stuck, not really going anywhere.”But that’s enough about me.I’ve known Beth since the seventh grade. Her husband was asking me how many years we’d been friends, and so I did the math.”Oh my God, 25 years,” I said, cupping my hand over my mouth in horror. “How is that even possible?”Beth and I met during middle school at a fancy-pants private day school my parents sent me to after they caught me sneaking out of the house to go drink whiskey with my friends in sixth grade. In the end, private school didn’t do much in terms of protecting me from being bad. It just made it more expensive.Beth had it more together than I did, but she was definitely wilder. In high school, she made the varsity lacrosse team and got good grades and high SAT scores, but she was also fearless and afraid of nothing when it came to experimenting, to experiencing life.She was totally at home, for example, in the parking lot of a big stadium before a Grateful Dead show. She’d wear tie-dyes and long, flowing skirts and chandelier earrings and dance through the crowd with her arms gracefully above her head while I trailed behind her, terrified that the vegetarian burrito I’d bought from the 12 year-old hippie kid might be laced with PCP. She was beautiful and free, and I was a neurotic mess.There were many carefree afternoons only teenage girls who have just discovered pot can truly understand. One day, we were driving around suburban Connecticut on our way to God-only-knows-where when we came to a stop sign. I just stopped the car and sat there.Beth looks at me and goes, “What the hell are you doing?””Waiting for the stop sign to turn green,” I said, not really understanding what it meant until after I’d said it.We laughed so hard we cried, not moving until someone came up behind us and honked for us to move out of the way.One summer we ran off to Nantucket without really planning it out first. We ended up spending three months living in a fruit stand at Bartlet’s Farm, sleeping in these bunk beds in the back of an old dusty garage with some guy named Booter. We had left Beth’s brown diesel VW Rabbit in a paid parking lot at the ferry station on the Cape without really knowing how we were going to pay for it. By August, we were flat broke and barely had enough money to pay for the gas to get us home.Sitting in the front seat contemplating our limited options, I said, “I have an idea.”The next thing I know, I’m standing in the middle of the woods helping Beth navigate the little car between a giant boulder and a downed tree. We had no idea where we were going. We only knew we were going to find a way out of this. When we came to a small clearing, I knew we’d done it again. There, on the other side, was an open road. It might have been well-hidden, but leave it to two crazed teenage girls to find it.In the end, Beth got accepted to Tufts University in Boston and then went on to law school at Tulane. During her spare time she’d work for these nonprofit environmental groups like Greenpeace and Public Interest Research Group, trying to save the world while I was ski bumming in Colorado.We lost touch for a little while, but reunited a few years ago when I attended her wedding on the Upper East Side. It was one of those posh city affairs with flower bouquets three stories high in a private club with a big spiral staircase, 50 pounds of oysters and chilled shrimp, and a cake that looked like it should have been preserved in some kind of bridal museum.Yes, she might have been the wild one, but somehow she managed to pull it all off, creating for herself this picture-perfect life.A lot of that went through my head as I sat in the second pew of the Episcopal Church in Park Slope, where the memorial service for her daughter was held. I just stared at the picture of her tiny, precious baby through tears that forced their way out whether I blinked my eyes or not. I struggled to understand why something like this would happen to my friend. What was the meaning of this life that had only lasted for seven short weeks? When Chloe was born, she weighed only one pound, and they hadn’t expected her to survive more than a couple of days. But that little girl was a fighter, just like her mom.The one thing I did understand is what true friendship means: the kind that lasts over the course of a lifetime, through high school graduation parties and college dorms and one too many bong hits and weddings and children, and now funerals – through life and even death.For a moment, I worried we might not be able to find a way out of this one. I wondered what I could possibly do for her at a time like this.Then the answer came to me, just like that. I’d have to help her find her way back down that sometimes hidden, open road.Send your e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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“To see kids slow down and take in a moment at an iconic monolith like Delicate Arch supports the principle motivation that initially helped to inspire our outdoor education programs,“ writes columnist Britta Gustafson. “Perhaps it’s those moments that can’t be forced but can be nurtured.”