Category Archives: Friendship

Empathy

Sometimes you meet someone by chance, become instant friends over some small, stupid detail, and spend the rest of your friendship marveling at all the other small, stupid details you have in common.

My friend Laurel and I met online several years ago and became friends when I called her for an article I was writing about Afton Station, which she owns. We bonded over our shared affinity for Archie McPhee products — specifically, the miniature pink plastic Cadillac fins they made a few years ago for decorating toilets, bicycle helmets, computer monitors, or anything else crying out for a touch of streamlined class.

Since then, we’ve discovered a litany of commonalities — everything from trivial stuff (we both love sushi; we’ve both grown our own mushrooms from a kit) to big things that actually shaped the way we think (both our moms were Christian Scientists when we were little) — and we always laugh when we discover a new one.

So it was that I checked her blog this evening for the first time in several days and found this post lamenting the recent loss of a small, largely insignificant sign from a fencepost in east Tulsa. Not four hours earlier, I’d thought of the sign, with a sad sigh, as I drove past the spot where it had once hung.

Reading Laurel’s blog entry on the subject, I felt exactly the way I’d felt the evening my best old college buddy and I experienced a Gift-of-the-Magi sort of moment involving an out-of-print book we’d been trying to track down for years.

Next round of sashimi’s on me, Laurel….

Emily

Keep on Rockin’ in the free world

Ron and I went over to the Rock Cafe this morning to help Dawn and the kids with the cleanup. To see where things stood when we started, check out Dawn’s blog.

Here’s how it looked when we finished:

Today was less about clearing floor space and more about knocking down the height of some of the piles. I worked primarily on the debris behind the bar, which used to be to the right of that row of stools. I also cleared out a lot of the debris behind the register stand, which isn’t visible in this picture.

Dawn re-enacts a scene from Office Space. (Excuse me … I believe you have my stapler….)

I started trying to clear a path from the late cash register stand (the raised platform on the left) to the kitchen. The pile is a little shorter, and I think I made about three feet of headway into the kitchen. It’s slow going, partly because everything we pick up seems to be attached to everything else, but it’s pretty satisfying to be able to see where we’ve been.

A few of the treasures Dawn and the kids unearthed before we arrived: three Rock Cafe mugs and a copy of a book called — I am not making this up — Eternal Route 66.

Ron catches his breath after a morning of good, honest work.

It was sad to see so much destruction, but there was something oddly therapeutic about being able to get in there and move some debris. As hard as it was to see the Rock in this condition, it felt good to be in there helping … and it felt even better to know that the thoughts and prayers of hundreds of people around the world were in there with us, supporting all of us as we moved the Rock just a few cubic yards closer to its rebirth.

Emily

Spring

So it’s 19 degrees outside, there’s a light dusting of snow on the ground, more is falling out of the sky, and I thought I would never stop shaking after I spent five minutes standing in the cold at 11 p.m., photographing the Swinney’s Hardware sign … but the Cubs’ pitchers and catchers reported to Mesa today, so obviously, it is now officially spring.

I don’t normally celebrate Valentine’s Day by dragging Ron out in the cold to shoot signs at 11 p.m., but we were just down the block from Swinney’s this evening anyway, having gone to the Circle to see American Hardcore, a great documentary about the hardcore punk scene, so we brought his camera along to see what I could get. After he dumps the photos off his camera, I’ll take a look and see if I got anything worth posting.

Ron’s little Kodak can be a bit uncooperative in low light, and the cold weather makes it a little temperamental (it and me both — I am not fond of subfreezing temperatures), but I didn’t feel like dragging my Rebel all over town tonight. It’s an amazing camera, but it’s also big, heavy, and rather valuable, so I prefer not to bring it along on trips where it’s likely to end up “lost or stolen or strayed,” to borrow a phrase from Milne. If the Swinney’s shot didn’t work tonight, I’ll take the Rebel out and try again tomorrow.

We don’t make a big fuss over Valentine’s Day, but tomorrow is one of my favorite days of the year. Tomorrow is the day that all of the little chocolate hearts with fluffy strawberry filling go on sale for half price, and tomorrow is also the day that the drugstores will start putting the Cadbury eggs and marshmallow Peeps on the shelves. I think I’ll check and see if I can rustle up some Peeps for my friend Laurel, who is recovering from a rather harrowing adventure involving her health. Laurel and I share a deep and abiding love for Route 66, good sushi, Archie McPhee catalogs, and marshmallow Peeps. It takes a special friend to understand about old motels, tuna sashimi, Nunzilla, and the delicate flavor of a marshmallow bunny impaled on a fondue fork and roasted to perfection over a gas burner….

Emily

Venus

I haven’t accomplished much of a tangible nature in the past few days. I have a stack of projects I need to work on, but I seem to just collapse in a heap before I get to any of them. It’s turned cold again, which doesn’t exactly inspire me to crawl out of my warm bed if I don’t have to. Hopefully I’ll pull myself together and get some things done this weekend.

We went to the Circle Cinema this evening to see Venus.

My overall impression of the film was that I probably would have written it eventually if somebody else hadn’t, because it centers on a premise that has always fascinated me: the radical notion that two people separated by a generation or two might, in fact, have a few things to teach each other in spite of — or perhaps precisely because of — their differences. (I probably love this storyline so much because my circle of friends consists primarily of people 25 to 30 years my senior — although I should note, for the record, that none of them has attempted to take any liberties with me, as O’Toole’s character does to his young foil on several occasions in the film. The guys I hang out with have better sense, better morals, or — in most cases — both.)

O’Toole gave an excellent performance, as did his young costar, Jodie Whittaker. Go see it if you get the chance — especially if you have the option of seeing it at an artsy indie theater, as we did.

Six days to p/c camp….

Emily

Giving by receiving

The rich in spirit help the poor in one grand brotherhood, all having the same Principle, or Father; and blessed is that man who seeth his brother’s need and supplieth it, seeking his own in another’s good.
— Mary Baker Eddy

I used to hate accepting help with anything, from anybody, for any reason. To my way of thinking, that was a sign of weakness, and I didn’t want anybody to think I was weak.

The funny thing is that I don’t think other people are weak when they accept a favor from me. And I really enjoy doing favors for other people, because it’s fun, and because — as one of God’s beloved children — I am a reflection of divine Love itself, and as such, I am happiest when I am expressing love to others.

If nobody ever let me help with anything, I would be absolutely miserable. But for some reason, it hadn’t occurred to me that I might be making someone else miserable with my independent (some would say “stubborn”) streak.

I think this realization started to dawn on me a little over a year ago, when I met my friend Brad.

Brad has the most charming manners of anybody I’ve ever met. After any given church service, you’ll find him helping women into their coats, opening doors for them, or escorting them over rough or slippery spots in the parking lot. He is the consummate gentleman.

There was a time, not so very long ago, when I would have bristled at such behavior. As far as I was concerned, chivalry was dead, and I was all too happy to dance on its grave, because I was of the opinion that it represented some outdated, condescending notion that women have to be handled with kid gloves. But it was immediately obvious to me that Brad’s actions were not motivated by condescension, disrespect, or anachronistic politics. Rather, he was simply expressing grace; affection; thoughtfulness; and respect for his mama, who taught him how a gentleman is supposed to behave.

It was also obvious to me that I would seem extremely rude, unkind, and unloving (not to mention very silly!) if I shrugged off these little kindnesses just to prove I could. Why would I want to go out of my way to deny this dear man a chance to make a gracious gesture — especially when such gestures are as natural to him as breathing?

I was reminded of this lesson one Sunday morning a couple of months ago on the church parking lot, where I discovered that my rear passenger’s side tire had gone flat.

Before I had time to clear the junk out of the cargo space and pull out my spare, a three-man pit crew had gathered around me, ready and willing to help.

I was tempted to dismiss my would-be rescuers with a friendly “Thanks, guys, but I can handle it” out of fear that they might mistake me for a weak, stupid girl who couldn’t take care of herself. But just at that instant, I happened to glance up and see Brad talking to someone on the other side of the parking lot, and I realized that this situation was no different than his habit of catching my arm to steady me when he saw me attempting to negotiate a curb in heels. With that gesture, he wasn’t saying that he thought I was clumsy or couldn’t take care of myself. He was just trying to make life a little easier for me at that moment. Similarly, these guys weren’t rushing to help me because they thought I was stupid or weak. They were rushing to help me because they wanted to make life a little easier for me at that moment — the same reason I would have rushed to help any of them if the situation had been reversed.

With that realization, I happily relinquished the wrench and let them loosen the lugnuts so I could swap out the tire and get back on the road.

If I had resisted their help, I might have proven I was capable of changing a tire by myself. But I also would have hurt their feelings and deprived them of an opportunity to express kindness by helping me out of an inconvenient situation, and I would have spent three times as long fooling with that tire in the process.

That really would have been stupid and weak.

Emily

Shut up and love.

The readings from the desk at church tonight included this passage from I Kings about the prophet Elijah’s experience on the mountain:

11 And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake:
12 And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.

Different people read that different ways, but the way I understood it was like this: People are big on referring to storms, earthquakes, fires, and other disasters as “acts of God.” But — as Elijah found out — that’s not how God expresses Himself. Rather, God is the still, small voice of Love, whispering instructions to His children to keep them safe and guide them through difficult situations.

Sometimes we look at a bad situation and think we’re overpowered. The problem is too big for us to fix. We’re too little to deal with it. But God isn’t in the problem. God — divine Love — is in the still, small voice. And it’s that voice that will guide us out of trouble, if we’ll just listen to it. It’s when we listen to human sense or rely on conventional wisdom (which is usually anything but) that we get into trouble. We jump to conclusions and react out of fear instead of getting quiet and listening for Love’s guidance.

We don’t have to wait for a major disaster to hear Love directing our steps, either.

I remember one morning when I was getting ready to go to lunch, and the thought came to me to call a friend and invite her to join me.

That idea seemed very silly. I knew my friend was terribly busy and didn’t have time to grab a burger at the drive-through, let alone sit down to a nice lunch with a friend and linger over dessert. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that I should call her, so I dialed her number and asked if she had time for a quick lunch at a restaurant near her office.

Even as I dialed, I was thinking, This is stupid. She doesn’t have time for this. I shouldn’t be interrupting her in the middle of the day for this. But I have learned not to ignore those thoughts that get hold of me and won’t let go. Mary Baker Eddy refers to those little bits of divine direction that nudge us through our day as “angels … pure thoughts from God, winged with Truth and Love.”

I probably shouldn’t have been surprised when my friend accepted my invitation without hesitation and said she really needed a break.

When we got to the restaurant, we settled into a booth with our food, and my friend started telling me about the rough day she was having. She was under a lot of pressure, and some of her colleagues had treated her unkindly. She was in tears just telling me about it.

I had never seen her cry, and I desperately wanted to say something that would make her feel better. God, I prayed silently, Give me the words. Tell me what to say.

And the answer came to thought immediately: Just love her. Don’t say anything. Just shut up and love her.

So that’s what I did. I just shut up and thought about how much I love her and why I feel blessed by her friendship.

By the time we finished dessert, she was laughing, and she thanked me for calling her just when she needed me. Her whole day turned around after that.

Why? Because there was no power in the stormy relationship with her colleagues, the quarrel that left her shaking with disappointment and frustration, or the heated words someone had flung her way. Love wasn’t in any of that.

Love was in the angel-message that told me to call her. Love was in the still, small voice that spoke for me in the silence as I held her hand and let her cry over a couple of brownies. And Love was in the quiet strength that carried her through the rest of that afternoon.

Bad situations are not insurmountable. Love, on the other hand, is.

Sometimes the best solution to a bad situation is just to shut up and love.

Emily

Carbondale After Dark

H.B. Koplowitz’s infamous account of the (literally) riotous history of the Carbondale, Ill., Strip during the 1960s has been out of print for many years.

My friend Jeffrey and I — who have been thick as thieves since the evening we shared a valiant but largely unsuccessful effort to keep straight faces while watching Lancelot spray saliva all over the stage every time he spoke during a performance of Camelot from the front row at Shryock Auditorium our sophomore year — spent the better end of four years searching for copies of the book. Each of us had vowed to make sure that the other one received a copy, in one form or another, as a gift if we ever found it.

In late 2000, Ron tracked down a copy for $60 on Powells.com and bought it for me, just because I wanted it.

I promptly began the painstaking process of typing a few pages at a time and e-mailing them to Jeffrey as a sort of serialized Christmas gift.

Meanwhile, Jeffrey, unbeknownst to me, had tracked down a copy of the book at the Carbondale City Library, Xeroxed the entire thing, and tucked it into plastic sheet protectors for me.

We had a wonderfully O. Henryfied moment that December, when he presented me with his gift during his annual Christmas party. Ron and Jeffrey were the only ones in the room who fully understood why I began laughing hysterically as soon as I tore off the paper and saw the cover (which Jeffrey had also Xeroxed and tucked into the clearview pockets on the front of the binder).

It was a priceless moment — utterly typical of us, and somehow a perfect explanation of what our long and hilarious friendship is all about.

Carbondale After Dark is a fun account of a fun university where I made a lot of friends and a lot of great memories. I don’t know if it was worth the lengths Jeffrey and I went to in our quest to find it after it went out of print, but it’s definitely worth the $19.95 cover price for a reprint. You can preorder a copy online (and get a 20 percent discount and a free poster of the cover) here.

Emily

P.S.: The garlic is coming up in our back yard, the ice-cream truck came by on Saturday, I saw a mockingbird in the front yard yesterday, and it’s 37 days to P&C camp. Spring is on the way! Can’t wait until the chorus frogs come back to Makanda. I’ll have to head home for a visit when they do….

On the nature of healing

Still waiting on that baby to show up. My sister is understandably scared, so please keep lifting her up with your prayers and good thoughts.

While we wait, I have a story to share about a wonderful healing I experienced recently.

As a Christian Scientist, I don’t take medicine when I feel unwell; instead, I turn to prayer to overcome the problem. If my own work doesn’t bring quick healing, I call a practitioner to help me adjust my thoughts about the situation and focus my prayers in a more productive way.

On a recent afternoon, I was dealing with a vicious migraine headache that seemed to be intruding on my consciousness. I felt too sick to get up or read or work or even think clearly, so I picked up the phone and dialed a practitioner who often helps me in such situations.

After I talked with him, I decided to let go of the problem and just try to get some sleep. (At that point, I felt too rotten to do much of anything else anyway.)

I rested for a couple of hours, but after a little while, the thought came to me to call and check on someone who had requested prayer about a difficult situation a few days earlier.

I balked. I couldn’t possibly make that call right then. I was too sick! How could I be any help at all to this person when I felt too ill to hold my head up? I didn’t need to make a phone call. I needed to sleep!

The thought came to me again: Make the call. I tried to ignore it, but it just wouldn’t leave me alone, so I finally gave up, grabbed the phone, and made the call.

As soon as I called, the conversation commanded my full attention, and we wound up talking for the better end of 45 minutes. I felt so much love for the person I was helping — and I was so focused on trying to be helpful — that I didn’t even realize at first that I’d been up and wandering around the house the whole time we were talking. I have no idea when the headache left, but by the time we hung up, it had vanished without a trace.

I think that’s the aspect of healing that amazes me the most: We can work on our own problems and find healing, but the work goes much faster when we take a break and help somebody else in the meantime.

I think maybe it’s like math. I always thought I was terrible at math, but when I taught high school a few years ago, I supervised one section of study hall, during which I was allowed to hand out only two hall passes at a time. If three students needed to ask other teachers about their classwork, one of them would have to wait until someone returned with the pass.

In moments of desperation, the kids would bring their math books up to my desk and ask me to help them. I would joke that there was a reason I’d gotten my degree in English, but invariably, I found that in trying to help my kids, I would gain a much deeper understanding of whatever they were learning. A time or two, I found myself explaining algebra or trig concepts that had always eluded my grasp in the past.

I think metaphysical concepts are the same way: I can struggle with a problem for hours, days, or even months. I can work with an idea and work with it and work with it and get absolutely nowhere. And then, quite unexpectedly, an opportunity will arise to help someone else, and the situation will require me to understand the very idea I’ve been struggling with, and somehow — often without really thinking about it at all — I understand, and both of us are healed.

Emily