I met up with an old friend today to go to our rabbi’s funeral. We popped into a nearby coffee shop and slid into a booth in our matching black dresses — hers with a blazer, mine with a sweater and pearls. We hadn’t seen each other in over a year. She’d had a baby; her third child. I’d gotten remarried. My older kids had started middle school. My little ones were almost too heavy to lift.
But the eternity since our last catch-up didn’t matter — we picked up our conversation as if we’d just put it down the day before. That’s how it always is with her: no matter how much time passes between our heart-to-hearts, it’s like we never stopped chatting. We’ve known each other forever. She’s like family. Even her brother is like my own.
As we went over the details of the funeral — the location, the shiva, the illness that had plagued our beloved rabbi, David Posner, the dignified, warm, caring guardian of so many of our life events — we settled into our normal, easy rhythm. Touching each other’s arms to express surprise; commenting — for real! — on what looked better about each other since our last coffee.
This friend, despite only talking to her every so often, is one of the few people to whom I confess my innermost secrets. Years ago, she met me at another neighborhood coffee shop, when I shakily came in, stunned after a particularly upsetting fight with a loved one that had rocked me to my core.
She’d said, “OK, I can take it. What happened?”
Later, at another catchup, she was the one I told when I was about to get separated from my first husband. She’s the only one I grab when I pass her on the street and say things like, “I haven’t showered in two days!” She doesn’t judge, but says, “Try three.”
As we talked today, joined together for a somber occasion, she referred to me as one of her “journey women,” someone who has stood by her for the long haul. She has been like that for me, too.
As I’ve gotten older, firmly in my 40s with four kids, I’ve had to limit my time hanging out with girlfriends, doing things like watching Sex and the City. Instead, I’m sitting on my carpet, surrounded by sippy cups watching Super Monsters or Young Sheldon, or maybe football with my husband while I work on my computer. I’ve noticed that some of my friendships can take the infrequent watering — they’re the evergreens in my friendship garden. The orchids — the friends that need more regular maintenance to stay alive — have started withering at the stems. And some, that need excessive care, I’ve had to jettison.
I keep many wonderful friendships alive by throwing occasional parties or gathering groups just to give these special girls a hug, a dose of sunshine, or to say how much I care, even though I haven’t (and they haven’t) had enough time to properly catch up. Spending time with girlfriends has become as big a treat to me as getting a massage: something I look forward to, that always makes me feel better for days afterwards, and which I find hard to indulge in that often, because it’s something just for me (and, well, them).
So many other things pile up on my desk, in my inbox, and on my plate, that the things I do just for me get pushed aside. For now. I’m looking forward to going on vacations with friends again when my kids all head off to college. If I can still walk without a cane by then.
I glanced at my watch. Our coffee date was almost over; the funeral was starting soon. “It’s time to go,” I said.
“No! Already?” She said.
She looked at her watch, too. “Five more minutes,” she said. “We can sit in the back.”
Eventually, we walked down the street, bundled up against the cold but with our conversation to keep us warm. We walked into the synagogue, one of the largest in the world, and sat side-by-side in that cavernous space as we heard eulogies that made us cry, grip our chests, hug each other.
“I’m so glad we came to this together,” she whispered.
“I was just thinking that,” I whispered back.
We stood up as a choir sang the Kaddish, and watched the rabbi’s family, his children who are our friends, and have become parents themselves, wipe their eyes and greet other congregants. The rabbi was carried out in a plain, wood box.
We followed the procession onto the street. I had to rush off in one direction, my friend in another. As we left the sea of mourners on the sidewalk, the distance between us grew. But that was only in the physical sense. In my heart she is always by my side. My journey woman.