This weekend I visited my friend Sheila in the hospital. She was feeling comfortable and we talked about things we had done together, about good meals we had each had recently, about books, and music. We exchanged advice. I refused to tell her about the season finale of “Downton Abbey,” which she had yet to see. It was a good visit.
Sheila’s life was not easy right from the beginning, when she was born with a challenging defect. It didn’t get easier: when she was four her mother died and she very quickly acquired a stepmother who, to say the least, was not always kind. Her life was punctuated with harsh physical and emotional struggles. It was, she would have told you, a life filled with...good fortune.
Even on Saturday in the hospital as her physical problems were becoming increasingly severe, her attitude was one of acknowledging the problems but choosing to concentrate instead on what there was to enjoy. Her close relationships with her beloved grandchildren, her marriage in mid-life to a man she loved dearly and who cherished her as she deserved, an upcoming celebration she was looking forward to, not to mention a dress she was planning to buy for it.
Wherever she went, Sheila made deep connections with people. She would sit down next to someone and she would have a new friend. “I keep meeting the most amazing people,” she once told me. “I can’t understand how it happens that I meet so many interesting people.” “Sheila,” I told her, “those people are all meeting you.”
I recently finished reading Gail Caldwell’s “Let’s Take the Long Way Home,” the wrenching chronicle of her friendship with Caroline Knapp, who died in 2002 at the age of 42. And, visiting Sheila, I was thinking, too, of the rich vein of women’s friendships that, if we are lucky, nourishes our lives. Some of the friendships are modest, limited to a specific piece of our lives--work, children, the gym. Other women are the “friends of our hearts,” the ones we live our lives with and can’t imagine our lives without.
What was I reading just yesterday about women’s friendships that ended with an exhortation to make a call right now to a woman who is one of those “friends of the heart”? I don’t remember. But it feels like good advice.