On my eightieth birthday, my son arranged for me to have a video call with several friends whom I’d left behind in the United States when I moved to France.
So touched was I by their sorely missed, albeit electronic, presence that I found it difficult to talk. I was embarrassed by my inability to stop crying.
One friend is a woman from Ohio whom I met on vacation in Kauai. Over time, she became like a younger sister. I entertained her and her family several times in my former California home. We’ve laughed together, played together, shopped together, and drunk too much together.
Another friend is someone I worked with thirty-plus years ago in San Francisco. Her husband, who functioned as my friend, brother, and business advisor, was our family attorney for decades. My now-deceased husband and I were godparents to their two children, who now tower over me as adults. This friendship deepened after she and I both lost our husbands.
A couple from Oregon also joined the video call. When my husband and I first met them on a tennis court in Kauai, we recognized each other as kindred spirits. My husband and I always looked forward to their weekend visits to our California home and annual reunions in Kauai.
A fourth person, who lived close by me in Nevada City, is best described as an all-purpose friend. We met at a tennis clinic in Grass Valley and started commuting together. Over the next thirty years, we found countless ways to enrich each other’s lives. She was (and is) the stable, thoughtful person who is incredibly sensitive to others’ needs, while I was (and am) the enthusiastic, try-anything-once kind of friend.
During the pandemic, when I feared I’d bring the virus home to my ill husband if I went out, this friend did my grocery shopping. She also helped me through medical crises more than once.
For my part, I have wonderful memories of making a quilt out of T-shirts for her college-bound daughter. I also remember the challenge of sewing Halloween costumes for that same girl.
Looking back on these long-term friendships is like looking into a kaleidoscope. I see the bright points—the celebration of life’s special moments, such as a graduation, a new grandchild, a wedding, a baptism, or a weekend barbeque.
However, I also see the dark points. I’ve grieved with them over losses, worried about these friends when they were ill, and comforted them when they faced disappointments.
During the video call, which occurred during the first of what would be several birthday parties, I was surrounded by new friends—whom I am extremely grateful for—here in France. I intend to add to this group over time.
Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “We take care of our health; we lay up money; we make our roof tight, and our clothing sufficient; but who provides wisely that he shall not be wanting in the best property of all,—friends?”
Every time I’ve transitioned from one reinvention of myself to another, I’ve brought along the special friends made during that period of my life. A few friends are my age, but most are younger. Some I know professionally (such as my editor), others I met through tennis, and others I gained through geographic proximity. Whatever the source, all are valued.
In retrospect, I’ve prudently done all the things Emerson suggests, such as taking care of my health and saving for retirement. However, what I delight in is the best property of all—my friends.