Okay, so I hope nobody is sick and tired of these tributes I keep writing. Is it MY fault that the people I know and love keep getting older? I mean, *I* didn’t plunk them, willy-nilly, into my life, forever to make an indelible impression! So blame God. I certainly do (“blame” here meaning “thank from the bottom of my heart”).
Seventh grade meant leaving the cozy security of St. Mary’s Parochial school (6th grade graduating class of 12) and walking a block up the road to (public-gasp!) East Jr. High. The campus of East was downright massive compared to the one-building structure that had been my educational home for the past 6 years. You even had to cross the street to a different building to get to some classes. The hallways teemed with teenage hoards whenever the bell rang; jostling, crushing, laughing, yelling, pushing, shoving, grappling with lockers and one another. There were 7 hallways to navigate, a gymnasium in which showering was required, and a massive cafeteria. It was a harrowing experience. To make it worse, none of my friends (all 2 of them) were in ANY CLASSES WITH ME. I was on my own; a pale, faceless waif in the madding crowd. Lockers were new to me. Changing classes every 50 minutes was new to me. Busses were new to me. Male teachers were new to me.
At least I had lunch period with one friend. She had gone to a different school than I, but we had been thrown together since first grade by virtue of our fathers working with the same company. I sought her out that first day of school in the fall of 1980, breathing a huge sigh of relief as her features came into view. But this tribute is not about her. This one is for the small blond girl who was sitting next to her. The one with the twinkling eyes and ready smile who was not afraid to exchange banter with me only moments after being introduced by that mutual friend. I remember to this day my first three thoughts regarding her:
“She’s really pretty.”
“She’s really weird.”
“I really like her.”
Apparently “really” was the only adverb in my vocabulary at that time. Nonetheless, it was sincere.
What are the requirements for developing a friendship? Familiarity? Common interests? Background? At that point in my life I didn’t even know how badly I needed, or would need, as Ann of Green Gables would say, a “bosom friend”. Yet here, right in front of my 12 year old eyeballs, was the answer to the unspoken longing in my malleable little heart. Even so, if we had been less thrown together in our ultra-structured jr. high schedules, the crossroads of our lives may have diverged irreparably without a backward glance. Providence being what it is, however, Sarah and I had almost every class together. I hadn’t noticed her in the melee up to that point, but upon comparing schedules, there we were, tracing the same orbit every day. I couldn’t have gotten away from her if I had tried.
But of course, I didn’t want to try. Being around Sarah made everything fun, and I was going to be around her every chance I got. We had our differences. My parents were together and I lived with four siblings. Her parents were divorced and she lived with her single dad and older sister. I was living in affluence, she was not. I was sheltered by a mother who did my laundry and cooked my meals and got me up for school. Sarah amazed me by doing all that herself, and more besides. I was an early riser, she was a late sleeper (I resorted to closing her up in the couch bed one morning in desperation–an act she did not readily forgive). My home life was not one to lend itself to sudden nighttime departures in which to execute all manner of unusual activities (we lived miles outside of town on 160 acres). She lived downtown, across the street from school, and thus opened my eyes to the joys of playing tennis at midnight and roaming the town in the dark. I sometimes marvel at all the trouble that could have found us and yet…didn’t. Our angels had their work cut out for them.
But we didn’t want to cause trouble. Not much, anyway. We had seen firsthand the effects of troublesome children in our own homes and weren’t anxious to cause more heartache. We were “the good kids”; wanting approval, and healing for the raw places in our hearts. We shared a love of stuffed animals and giant pretzels, string cheese and silliness. Yet I cannot say these are the things we bonded over. I’m still not sure what it was except the mutual need for someone to come along and say “Me too. I get it. I’ve felt that. I dream that also.” We were not part of any particular clique in school. We were neither Athletes nor Cheerleaders, Geeks nor Potheads, Band Kids nor Preppies. We were Us, and we were happy in that. We formed our own brand of posse, composed of other kids who didn’t fit in the Breakfast Club cubbies, and we laughed at all the others (okay, not to their faces, but nonetheless).
Even though I travelled to Norway in high school, our friendship weathered the separation (in spite of her erratic letters) and we saw each other every summer, during which time I would spend at least a month at her house, free as a bird and free-er, catching up on all the news and spending at least the first 48 straight hours in constant conversation. She came to visit me in Norway one Christmas and met her future husband. I married her husband’s best friend. We had our firstborns within 6 months of each other. Back and forth the shuttle of God’s loom has woven our lives together, silently and unseen, but always with joy and purpose far bigger than we realized at the time.
Our walks with the Lord have grown from vague acknowledgement of a Higher Authority to specific surrender at the cross of a particular Savior. I have watched her live her life with an abandonment to that Savior which has made me envious at times. Her joy in Him and her unwavering belief in His goodness has challenged me. She does not cringe from speaking His name in casual conversation, and she is both bold and gentle in sharing Him with others. She is iron to my iron, and I know I’ve been sharpened through our relationship
Sarah was a surprise package, an unexpected blessing, an exploding can of beans, a joy buzzer to the heart, a just-because-I-love-you gift from God plopped down before me in the garish din of East Jr. High cafeteria. Her presence in my life gave definition to the “friend who loveth at all times” spoken of in scripture, and on this, her 39th birthday, all I can do is keep attempting to return the favor. Happy Birthday, Sarah!