I remember at age five walking in our new neighborhood with my 6 ½ year older sister. I had the idea of knocking on the neighbors’ doors and asking if they had any kids we could play with. Nothing like announcing yourself, taking a risk, and not even knowing it. Sometimes there were kids our age but for the most part we got lots of cookies and smiles.
Thinking back on how I met my longtime friends, I realize that friendships were forged by a shared insecurity, craziness, newness, or an unanticipated experience. When I moved to Miami Beach at age 16, I knew no one. Enter the girl who walked everywhere, wore culottes (now known as skorts) and didn’t know anything about make-up. My short stature, my oddness, my demeanor, said newbie, stay clear. But in homeroom –15 minutes a day, I met my most enduring friendship that still shines today. I’d say we were two peas in a pod; not in looks, habits, abilities, but in how we saw the world. Laughter, coupled with philosophy, set the stage for what was to come. Our favorite phrases … it never stops, or …oh, Dude…took us through college, marriages that failed, travel trips, illness, loss, and periods of calm – all from afar.
Something about vulnerability and honesty slips through the crevices of walls we have built over the years. A shared experience, a project reveals what we can’t express in words. I remember building a library with a dedicated group of neighbors in the small town I lived in. I was a new mom with three children—five and under—looking for distractions. The library was in a school cafeteria, opened only when the school wasn’t in session. The kindness and dedication of the librarians motivated me to donate time, skills, and laughter. The library remains a hub of the area and one of the retired librarians continues our 40-year friendship no matter the why or the where.
Stepping into the unknown with strangers on a trip beyond one’s home borders gives everyone even footing. We all stumble, but thrown together for a month, alliances develop. Not always, but on a few of my foreign trips, a fellow traveler will stand out. Not usually for who they were, or what they did, but for their kindness, laughter, and willingness to be open. They have seeped past our protective layer and become part of our life. They have seen me dressed in another culture dancing with joy.
Most of these friendships are long distance because life has taken us down different paths. We choose our friends, the ones we that are willing to listen, not judge, and to hang-out with us on a rainy day or month—that knows how we maneuver, that is present even if we want to disappear.
As I plant roots in my new home, I smile often. I have one-liners as I recognize people that I pass daily on my walks. I talk about their dog, or their garden. I listen to their stories. I take time to be present. One lady eats at the same restaurant every day. We wave, I know nothing of her life. One day she asked me my name, I asked for hers as well. Another time I talked to a couple who were eating gelato—the same flavor I had ordered. We’ve gone to pick blackberries together and went to a sports-bar to watch Serena Williams play her last tournament. I drank what I thought was a non-alcoholic beer. Yummy, but I was content with three zips and pleased that I only had a short walk home. I’ve joined a walking group that meets monthly. Most are my age and delightful. And still I have that gnawing sensation.
Living in a condominium is like living on campus at college. I learn the habits of the occupants, relishing in our humanness. However, we wear blinders in the wee hours of the morning when they are half awake taking out their dog in their robe, and I, clad in yoga clothes, hair up on my head, slip into the gym. The best place to exchange niceties is in the mailroom.Deliveries tell stories of peoples wants, needs, and preferences. I’ve made some friends on my floor. Across the way is a woman the age of my adult kids, she often visits with a glass of wine in hand as she unravels from a stressful day. I’ve acquired another buddy who loves to walk to parks or venture into more cosmopolitan areas. Together we take the light rail into the city, visit the Chihuly or other art museums, go for lunch.
Friendships take time, a willingness to be open. I note that so far, all the wonderful people I have met, slip back to their private worlds. None of us want to step too far out from our comfort zone into anyone else’s life. I long for those days when our armor was more malleable, when we weren’t afraid to reveal something personal. Authenticity—not charm or impressive pasts –is harder to come by. In lieu of knocking on doors, I’ll continue to be kind, smile, and even bake cookies for others. I cherish all my long enduring friendships and those that will come. If I cross paths with you in future… say hi… who knows where it will lead.
Abbe Rolnick grew up in the suburbs of Baltimore and lives in the Pacific Northwest. After attending Boston University, she lived in Puerto Rico, where she owned a bookstore. She is the owner of Sedro Publishing. Her writings include three novels in the Generation of Secrets Series, as well as Cocoon of Cancer: An Invitation to Love Deeply, Tattle Tales: Essays and Stories Along the Way, and Bubbies Magical Hair. To learn more about her writings, Abbe's Notes and Abbe's Ruminations, visit her website, www.abberolnick.com. Abbe welcomes questions and requests for speaking engagements and would love to hear from you.