sending love on this solemn and sacred of days

by christie shumate mcelwee

Love.

Usually on Valentine’s Day I write a post on love and include some of my favorite quotes on the subject. I’ve collected love quotes since I first began writing. Some dance with joy, others are thick as fog around my old heart. They tug, pulling me towards the light. What is love to me these days? It is decency, respectability that comes from kindness. It is compassion, a true sympathy and empathy for another’s pain. Love is sacrifice, surrendering ourselves for others.

Love.

Love is a life-long learning curve that weaves around corners, stalls at intersections, and often crashes into itself. It can be horrible and exquisite, just like every moment of our lives. Love is making terrible mistakes. It is forgiveness. It is reaching out in times of tremendous grief and walking together when there’s peace. Love gives us hope, even in the bleakest of times.

Love.

So, on this 11th day of September, 19 years after those towers fell and our collective hearts broke, I am sending you love. Pure, deep, true love. Magical love. Love that is our quirky, crooked flaws, yet also celebrates our grace. Love that sees us, naked and beautiful, and, because only love will carry us home.

Love.

Have you ever been in love? Horrible isn’t it? It makes you so vulnerable. It opens your chest and it opens up your heart and it means that someone can get inside you and mess you up. – Neil Gaiman, The Friendly Ones

You can have other words – chance, luck, coincidence, serendipity. I’ll take grace. I don’t know what it is exactly, but I’ll take it. – Mary Oliver

Love is the ultimate expression of the will to live. – Tom Wolfe

My, wasn’t life awful – and wonderful? – Mrs. Soames, Our Town, Thornton Wilder

Where there is great love, there are always wishes. -Willa Cather

Love does not begin and end the way we seem to think it does. Love is a battle. Love is a war. Love is growing up. – James Baldwin

Tell me who admires and loves you, and I will tell you who you are. – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)
-e.e. cummings

a half bushel of hope

tuesday morning musings: september 8, 2020

by christie shumate mcelwee

  1. Even after five years of retirement, three day weekends throw off my internal clock/schedule. Is it Monday morning? Tuesday? Was yesterday Sunday? Wait, what day is it again? Is Friday only four days away? When is garbage day? Once again, what day is it?
  2. I’m working on a few things in my life: diet, routine, hope vs. optimism, my cranky judgment and constant complaining.
  3. I don’t really believe in diets, yet I know I need to do something about this CWG (covid weight gain….another sad new saying born from the pandemic I learned from my friend Lisa). I need to be more accountable for what I decide to eat: more vegetables and fruits, less fats, maybe less wine????? Phooey. 
  4. I am heading up to my office to write for at minimum an hour each day. What will I write? It doesn’t matter. I’m working on my routine, but there are blog posts, prompts, and that book of mine. Maybe some dirty limericks?
  5. We ventured out some this past weekend, which helps my mental health. We’re careful. Mask are worn. Precautions are taken. We need this. I understand, though, those who don’t feel comfortable yet. I also acknowledge the risks, even with all of the protocols in place, but after six months, we need outings. Each step out brings hope.
  6. And…I believe in hope. Even during these murky days, I see hope. Is hope always looking on the bright side, denying reality, and pushing aside the struggles? No. There are times when we need to sit with our pain. Hope is in the darkness. It appears within the cracks. Hope is our strength, our belief, our power. Hope is stronger than optimism. Optimism, an expectation of a favorable outcome, often brings disappointment, but hope hangs on, even during the storms. Hope is releasing expectations. Hope often just floats.
  7. I’m also working on letting go of judgment and complaining. Wow, you say. That’s a colossal undertaking these days. Yup, but it is another task that will improve my mental health. I’m releasing things I cannot control, which is a looooooong list, and focusing on what I can control, a shorter yet more obtainable list.
  8. Still on my anti-racist journey, I’m currently reading me and white supremacy by Layla F. Saad. It’s a squirmy, difficult, and oftentimes heart-wrenching read, but it is necessary. As stated previously, I can control my own path, and this work is part of it.
  9. On one of our outings this weekend we picked Honeycrisp apples at a local orchard. Now we have sixteen pounds of apples (approximately half a bushel – I looked it up) and I’m pondering different recipes. Apple salad? Apple bread? Applesauce? Any suggestions?
  10. One more thing about hope. Hope is not blind. It acknowledges the broken, the messy, the dismal, yet it is the strength of hope that places our feet on the floor each morning, ready to navigate another day.  Where is my hope? It is my favorite pen. A blank notebook page. A book recommended by a dear friend. An unexpected gift. A text sent. A text received. Our cozy house. My snoring cat. That man lying next to me in bed. A half bushel of apples. Hope.

“Hope is not about proving anything. It’s about choosing to believe this one thing, that love is bigger than any grim, bleak shit anyone can throw at us.” ~Anne Lamott

“When hope is not pinned wriggling onto a shiny image or expectation, it sometimes floats forth and opens.” ~Anne Lamott

Hope often comes in the form of an apple and its infinite possibilities.

The first day of September musings

(September 1, 2020)

by Christie Shumate McElwee

I don’t know about you all, but six months into this debacle, I’ve hit a wall. I can’t sleep. I can’t think. I have trouble concentrating on much of anything. Yesterday my friend Marcia sent me a link to an article that helped me define how I’ve been feeling. It discussed an ancient Greek word that encapsulates these days for many of us. The word is “acedia,” defined as “a seizing up or freezing of feelings; spiritual or mental sloth; a lack of care.” Medieval monks cloistered in monasteries often experienced “acedia.” They suffered a sense of listlessness, sighing at their lonely existence, not knowing what to do next. Does this sound familiar? It’s not depression or laziness. It’s acedia, and sometimes it is reassuring to have a name for our emotions. When Marcia forwarded me this yesterday, I was at my desk staring at a blank page. It was almost as though she knew I needed help. It’s the universe (and a good friend) holding out a hand.

I think all of us are grappling with some form of acedia right now. We are stuck in an anxiety-riddled mire, constantly worrying about the impact of the virus, our political climate, hurricanes, fires, racial injustice, voting, our “leader’s” unhinged Twitter rants, the openings of schools, keeping our families safe, and not forgetting a mask when venturing out. No wonder we feel stranded, wishing we had a soccer ball companion named Wilson who would listen to our endless strings of worry beads.

How do I sit with my own acedia?

Place purple mums on my front porch.

Text dear friends my fears and hopes and deepest desires.

Rearrange my office.

Bake an apple pie.

Write cards to my grandchildren.

Read. Read. Read.

Read fiction. Read nonfiction. Read poetry.

Read. Read. Read.

Nap when I can.

Take my mom out to lunch.

Brew good coffee.

Practice yoga.

Listen to music. Always music.

Buy stamps.

Limit time on social media and the news.

Stay out of the comments. Nothing good ever comes from reading the comments. Nothing.

Reach out to our kids. Grateful when they reach out to us.

Venture out from my cloistered life.

Bask in the cooler days.

Hang onto hope.

Look for magic.

Send big messy everlasting love out to the universe.

“The very least you can do in your life is figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof.” ~ Barbara Kingsolver

“Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.” ~Roald Dahl

“You can only go with loves in this life.” ~Ray Bradbury

And…because I’m still an English teacher in my heart….

Stillman, Jessica. “The Ancient Greeks Had a Word for the Specific Kind of Bad You’re Feeling Right Now.” Inc. 31 August 2020.

storms and rainbows

by christie shumate mcelwee

Yesterday was stifling hot. Hot like 97 degrees, feels like 107 hot. Then in the evening a storm blew in without much warning. The skies went dark. Winds picked up. Temperatures dropped. I quickly gathered all the outside pillows before they were blown to the nether regions. Rain came down in sheets. Lightening flashed and thunder booms immediately followed. Our already flooded neighborhood lakes groaned as they took on even more water. After the storm moved on, I glanced to the western skies. Streaks of yellow and red and orange and purple graced the horizon, reminding us that beauty often follows chaos. But even as I admired the sunset, the rain began again. Too late for rainbows. 

Facebook photo by Terri Steffes

This storm and its aftermath is a metaphor for my (and I’m sure many of your) moods since March: dark, manic, scary, colorful, gray, hopeful, ominous, resplendent. One moment there’s a squall and then suddenly, calm. I’m continuously wobbly, attempting to navigate these circumstances we are in right now. So, I breathe and gather my strength for the next storm, because it’s inevitable. This is the rollercoaster we call being human in the late summer of 2020. The rains blow in and out, leaving us soaked. We stumble in the house searching for a dry towel, hoping it isn’t sour smelling from the last downpour. We scan the sky for rainbows, nature’s most optimistic symbol. Or as my brother Jeff wrote in an Instagram post, “Morning rainbow apologizing for an angry sky.”

Instagram photo by Jeff Shumate, Atlanta, GA

Life is both storms and rainbows, and acknowledging these two are intertwined allows us to pull on our rain boots so we may gleefully stomp in the puddles. 

Another secret of the universe: Sometimes pain was like a storm that came out of nowhere. The clearest summer day could end in a downpour. Could end in lightening and thunder.”

Benjamin Alire Saenz

the power of words

by christie shumate mcelwee

A story about a drunk and the power of words.

Since the Midwest July weather was unusually steamy and I didn’t feel like heating up the kitchen, my husband and I decided to run to the local grocery store to pick up some fried chicken and potato salad for dinner. As we entered, the first thing we noticed was a security guard standing at the door. “Well, I’ve never seen that before,” whispered my husband. I shrugged and said it’s probably because it was a Friday evening. He then went to the deli counter to order the chicken and I wandered around the bakery section, trying to decide on a dessert. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a man (one of the few in the store not wearing a mask) weaving in and out of the displays purposely knocking things off tables. He stumbled out of sight, and I, of course behaving like the mom/teacher I am, picked up after him. Rock met me with the chicken, we picked out a dessert and a bottle of white wine, and then made our way to the check out line. I did spy the same man making a small scene in another aisle, so I said to myself, “Please don’t let him near us. Please don’t let him near us.” At this grocery chain, customers must line up and wait for the clerks to wave them over when they are ready. We ended up in the first line. We were just about finished when I noticed this man throwing his beer and charcoal briquets on the belt. The clerk was stunned, so I automatically said, “Sir, you need to wait your turn.” He then bellowed, “What did you say? I need to wait my turn? What?” I then responded with, “I’m just sending peace and love. We all have to take care of one another.” His retort was, “You cunt!” Rock had the grocery bag in his hands attempting to counter the guy’s hateful rhetoric, but as the clerk threw me the receipt, I gave my sweet husband a look that said,” We need to get out of here…now.” So we quickly made our way towards the door. By this time the guy was screaming repeatedly “You cunt!” across the entire store and one of the other clerks had summoned the security guard. I held my peace sign up until we got out of his sightline and then practically sprinted to our car. My hands shook and tears fell the whole way home. 

This man went into the store drunk, itching for a fight. I was just the lucky recipient of his anger. I realize now I probably shouldn’t have engaged him. We would have gone on with our evening undisturbed, but here’s the thing: this is a man who, I’m pretty sure, uses that word whether he is drunk or sober, masked or unmasked. This disgusting word that demeans women with its violent sputter. I spent most of Saturday hunkered down, feeling bruised. I thought of all the store clerks, waiters, and others who have to put up with these types of people, individuals who feel their “liberties” are begin stolen from them with mask requests, who believe they have the right to call out strangers and weaponize language. I pondered all of the women in this guy’s life who have been on the receiving end of his vitriol. I then contemplated the repugnant words that have been lobbed at people throughout the history of man. Words that make stomachs churn and hearts cringe. We humans have immense jurisdiction to strike others down with just a cruel comment. I then decided I would not give this guy permission to break me. I scattered the word’s power and turned it to dust.

The words we choose are crucial. Do we spread love or scatter hate? The names we casually throw around hold tremendous weight, so how do we counter the despicable, the vicious, the evil language that permeates our society?

There isn’t an easy answer, that I know. Repulsive language has been around since humans first grunted. We quickly learned how to force others to their knees through one degrading slur. But perhaps…we counter divisive language with statements that stitch us back together.

So, dear ones, I offer up a few suggestions:

I love you.

You are magic.

Walk in peace.

I admire your strength.

You are a warrior.

What words will you give the world today?

Words: So innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.

Nathaniel Hawthorne
Photo by ATC Comm Photo on Pexels.com

“that’s what the storm’s all about”

by christie shumate mcelwee

Judging others makes us blind, whereas love is illuminating. By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are.” ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The world right now is exhausting. I know I am tired. Tired of cruelty and stubbornness and ignorance and injustice. I am drained. When my head hits the pillow at night and tears flow, I know I have over-consumed too much of the bad that is out there. And boy, it is out there, waiting in the darkness, ready to pounce and eat us all alive with its venom.

My heart is drained. What I am mostly tired of is the judgment and shaming, and yes, it is coming from within. I judge. I shame. And it is tearing my joy into shards. I am the Ancient Booer in The Princess Bride who shames Buttercup’s nightmares.

“Boo! Boo! Rubbish! Filth! Slime! Muck! Boo! Boo! Boo!”

The old woman was a manifestation of Buttercup’s conscience. She knew her love was out there, waiting. She was shaming herself because of the decisions she had made.

How do I move from becoming the Queen of Slime, the Queen of Filth, the Queen of Putrescence? What is my conscience telling me about love? How do I maneuver this rocky and dangerous terrain and set aside my own judgment and shame? Is it even possible?

I do not have answers to these difficult questions. The sheer scope of the pandemic and the ongoing fight for social justice have presented us with many challenges. The stories in the news can be confusing. Where is the truth? How do we model honor and decency for our children and grandchildren? Whom do we look toward for guidance? Wisdom? Empathy?

Once again, I am not sure I have any answers. All I do know is that my soul needs peace. I seem to be at odds with so many, yet I do know this: I believe in the virtue of love, the dignity of grace, and the importance of our collective humanity. 

I will choose not to lose heart. I will soften my judgment. I will look and listen and try to understand. All of this may sound simple and naive, but it is all I have and I am willing to hang onto these nuggets of hope.

I will get through these confounding days. If I have moments of despair, I will sit with them. When I see magic, I will acknowledge its presence. I will embrace joyful moments. Navigating this complicated labyrinth may be a daily challenge, but I am choosing to live my remaining years with tenderness. I will strive to let go of the sharp edges and learn to forgive others and myself. I will weather this storm.

“And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure whether the storm is really over. But one thing is for certain, when you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what the storm’s all about.”
~Haruki Murakami

How am I weathering this storm? Through piles of books and yoga and good friends and fabulous food and music and hikes through glorious fields of wildflowers.

our little tree: tiny hopeful buds

by Christie Shumate McElwee

We have a two-year old tree in front of our house that isn’t doing well. While all the other trees on our block have leafed out, ours silently stands with just a few buds attempting to open. Every day I send energy to its roots, hoping it will feel the strength of my love. I acknowledge that all my tree hugging may not be able to save it, yet I pray to Mother Nature to summon her powers to revive this struggling plant.

Lately I have been pondering the difference between hope and optimism. Yes, these concepts are related, but they follow divergent paths. Both are guideposts to the future. Think in terms of their opposites. The opposite of optimism is pessimism, and the opposite of hope is despair or fear. Optimism relies on feeling good about the future, even denying that bad things can happen. Optimists expect things to turn out okay. Hope, on the other hand, relies on the effort to make life better, knowing hard times are ahead and barreling ahead in spite of them. Hopeful people continue on through the pain, fighting for justice and kindness and peace.

In Emily Dickinson’s poem “Hope is the thing with feathers”, she writes:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –

That perches in the soul –

And sings the tune without the words –

And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –

And sore must be the storm –

That could abash the little Bird

That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –

And on the strangest Sea –

Yet – never – in Extremity,

It asked a crumb – of me.

The little bird clings to the branch while the storm swells, and continues to sing its song. Hope gives us warmth, yet doesn’t ask anything of us. We know things are rough. We see the darkness. We feel the pain…yet hope is still there, singing its tune.

Where do I see hope? It is in people trying their best to protect others. It is in our beautiful faces, even when covered by masks. Hope is in the reaching out, the praying, the grace we give one another. Hope sustains us.

And what about our little tree? Will my hope save it? I check it every day for new buds, and embrace its trunk, hoping it will feel my spirit. Will it survive? I don’t really know the answer, but I continue to hope, and that hope gives me strength to face what is ahead. I will live under hope’s roof.

“The very least you can do in your life is figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof.” 

Barbara Kingsolver, Animal Dreams

At first glance, our little tree looks dead.
But step closer, you can see tiny, hopeful buds.

‘show me’ how to breathe: the reopening of my state and how to navigate my anxiety

by Christie Shumate McElwee

I woke up in the middle of the night with a rapid heart beat and a litany of questions. Is this really a good idea? Are our numbers flat enough to reopen? When will I feel safe again in public? How do I manage my ramped up anxiety? Is there a right way to do this thing? A wrong way? What about those who don’t adhere to the rules? What about the small business owners who need to open so they can stay afloat? Will I ever feel comfortable eating in a restaurant? Shopping in a store? Can establishments keep their workers safe while operating? What about more tests? More PPE? What if there is a surge in positive cases? What about those who won’t wear masks? Will we ever go to a concert again? A street fair? The pool? Will I ever be able to catch my breath again?

My state and county officially reopened at 12:01 am today. (A few counties with larger populations have chosen to remain closed.) The “show me strong recovery plan” has lists of rules and regulations on its website, but with the exception of a few places, the doors have been thrown wide open. The businesses I follow on social media have been posting their procedures for reopening. Some are waiting at least a week while they hammer out the logistics. Others, especially restaurants, are moving tables and chairs six feet apart, instituting hygiene rules, and begging for patience from their customers while they attempt to figure this all out.

On Saturday my husband and I went for a drive. We decided to check out a county park that had just reopened. During “normal” times we love to walk the path around the lake, but when we arrived, the place was packed. People were everywhere. Parking lots were full. Despite the signs encouraging safe social distancing, few seemed to comply. We quickly left the premises and found a small semi-deserted place to walk where I could breathe.

I am slowly realizing that in order to come to some kind of peace with all of this, I have to sit with my anxiety and then remember I can only control myself.

So, here’s my list of what I can control:

  1. We are going to maintain our own ‘shelter-in-place’ for at least another month. We will venture out for walks, trips to the grocery and hardware stores, and for my husband, an occasional game of golf, but we need to see how this all works before we tip-toe out in public. (And yes, I am getting my hair cut. You can judge me if you want, but it’s happening.)
  2. I am going to attempt to set aside my own judgment of others. I don’t like the icky feeling I get when I’m in the judgment zone. (This is difficult for me. I must be honest. If you are rude, unkind, racist, or just plain stupid, I may continue to judge you.) We humans are social animals. Staying sequestered goes against our natures. This I understand. I also know businesses cannot stay closed forever. If an establishment is going to the trouble to keep its workers and customers safe, I’m holding my judgment…for now.
  3. We will wear our masks when entering any establishment. Yes, it is a hassle. Yes, it is a pain in the butt. Yes, it is the smart thing to do in order to protect the health of others.
  4. I am cutting way back on the quarantine amount of wine I have consumed. I’m rationing myself to the weekends instead of every night. My sleep cycle and liver will thank me.
  5. I will continue to exercise almost every day. This is important for maintaining my weight and my mental health.
  6. I am also rationing my reading and viewing consumption of anything that concerns the current occupant of the White House and his hateful, small, ignorant words. A friend of mine said she won’t allow him in her house, and I’ve decided that’s brilliant! I would never invite such a person in my home, so why am I doing it now? I will permit one or two articles a day, an occasional rant, and that is it. I will vote in November and hope, hope, hope we can heal.
  7. I’ve decided to let go of my part-time teaching job. This pandemic has taught me the importance of listening to my heart, and it is telling me it is time to hang up my teaching cape. It’s been a good run, but I am done.
  8. We will continue to order from our favorite locally owned businesses. We’ve finally figured out this whole take-out routine, and we kind of like it. On nice days, we will grab a blanket and head outside for a picnic, just to mix things up a bit.
  9. Today I will start meditating. It may just be for five minutes a day, but it will help me breathe.
  10. I will attempt to live in the moment and push aside the fear. I will love with my messy heart all that is good in the world. I will breathe in hope and breathe out compassion.

“Life is beautiful in spite of everything…There are many thorns, but the roses are there too.” ~Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Crimson clover has overtaken empty lots in our neighborhood. Isn’t it gorgeous?

cece’s 19 thursday musings

by cece (my grandma name)

Day WTF

(A few are political, so if you don’t want to read or believe my sassy liberal views, move on.)

  1. I see online all the wonderful bread being made. It all looks so delicious I can almost smell it! Last week I baked a loaf of banana bread. Does that count?
  2. Please do not share conspiracy theories of body counts in urban areas. It is sad and sick and just not right. These “bodies” are people’s friends and family members. Say a silent prayer and step away from the propaganda.
  3. I miss hugs. I really miss hugs.
  4. I ration myself to just a few news articles a day that deal with our government’s total ineptitude of dealing with this crisis. My sanity can only take so much stupidity.
  5. Support mail-in voting. Widespread voter fraud is a myth. Yes, I love going to the polls to vote, but I shouldn’t have to risk my life to do it. Any type of voter suppression is morally repugnant. There. I said it.
  6. All the calories we are consuming during the quarantine don’t count, right?
  7. And the same goes for all the booze, yes?
  8. I went to our neighborhood market this afternoon, and it took half an hour for my heart rate to come down after I returned and wiped down everything. Again. I miss our weekly trips to the grocery store when Rock would push the cart while I’d dance down Dierberg’s aisles finding everything on the list. Dierberg’s has the best music, I’m just saying.
  9. Overnight, how did we all become hypochondriacs, agoraphobics, and Howard Hughes? Damn.
  10. Please do NOT gather in a church this Sunday. God will hear your off key version of “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” during your online worship. Me? I’m going to rewatch Jesus Christ Superstar with John Legend. Hosanna, baby.
  11. According to the numbers and models, social distancing is working. Stay home, if you can. If you are an essential worker, stay safe. If you are venturing out to the stores or picking up food, follow the rules. Also, stop gathering in large groups. STOP. IT.
  12. I am trying to donate to a charity or order takeout or delivery from a local establishment at least once a week. What are you doing?
  13. Once again, it’s okay to feel sad. There are no rules for how to behave in a global pandemic. 
  14. I really really miss my lunches out with friends. 
  15. When I found out I wouldn’t be meeting my ESL students in person again this semester, I cried.
  16. If you will be missing graduations, proms, and end of the school year celebrations, I am truly sorry. My heart hurts for you.
  17. If you are having financial troubles, I am wrapping you all in my fierce warrior goddess energy. Stay strong, my loves.
  18. Spring is still on its way. No virus will stop spring.
  19. Listen to good music. Enjoy the quiet. Love one another.

You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep spring from coming.

Pablo Neruda

‘my friend ann’

by ‘her friend christie’

I have been blessed over the years to have gathered tribes of wonderful women friends. A few are from early grade school years, some when we attended Woodrow Wilson Junior High, others from MacArthur High School, several from my Millikin University days, and the rest I have assembled along the way from work, book clubs, and various organizations. I am grateful for their strength and passion and prayers (“Yes, Annelle, I pray!”). These women have propped me up when I’ve been at my lowest and stood along with me as I have stumbled into battles. We show up for one another, even when it is at its most painful.

My friend Ann is one of these women. I always refer to her as ‘my friend Ann’ to avoid confusion with ‘my sister Ann.’ I first met ‘my friend Ann’ during the second semester of my senior year in college. When I cast her in the one-act play I was directing for one of my final projects, I was thrilled she accepted the part. A real actress was going to be in my little old play! I was just a lowly speech education major with minors in English and theater. What did I really know about the world of theater? But her kind words of advice stayed with me, along with Doc Hopper’s (college theater professor) and Mr. Rueter’s (high school drama teacher), as I attempted to direct messy middle school and high school productions from the mid-eighties to the mid-nineties. 

Years went by before I ran into Ann again. Our children went to the same magnet school and when we saw each other at a meeting, we both did that “I know you from somewhere” gesture. Her daughter and my youngest son became good friends during those years, but Ann and I were still just acquaintances, exchanging a few nods and words at show choir competitions and concerts.

Our friendship didn’t really begin until I joined a book club of intelligent, thoughtful, and hilarious women. Throughout the discussions, Ann and I discovered we had a lot of life journeys in common: divorce, the tough yet joyful single mom years, remarriage to our fabulous men, a deep love of literature, and our teaching careers. We began to meet for walks where we would talk about everything, from our families to the state of our nation and the world. Eventually, we brought our men together and the four of us connected over shared dinners. We serve appetizers, tell stories, toast with locked eyes, laugh about mistakes, and cry over heartaches. Couple friends like this are precious, and I am grateful every day we like and respect one another so much. A few years ago my husband and I moved two hours away, but the distance has not diminished our friendship. With each text, call, and visit, these stitches find us stronger in our affection .

Back in January, Ann came down for a visit. We ended up looking at mother-of-the-bride dresses at a few high-end stores. I was comfortably ensconced in the cozy chairs as Ann modeled dress after dress. My heart filled with gratitude for Ann sharing this moment with me. She may never truly know how much it meant to me to be able to giggle our way through the piles of designer dresses.

Ann has introduced me to opera. She challenges my mind. When she and her husband came to my father-in-law’s memorial service and as I heard her beautiful voice sing over the congregation, I cried tears of joy that she was there for us. Just last week she delivered soup and yogurt to my mother who is now, like the rest of us, homebound. I love her stories. I adore her passion. I admire her talents.

Happy Birthday, dearest friend. This quarantined birthday may not be the one you planned, but it will be remembered. You are my heart, my love, my touchstone. You, Rock, your Dick, and I will toast champagne together soon, ‘my friend Ann.” I love you for all you have given me and all we will share together on this fabulous journey called life.

“Friendship…is born at the moment when one man says to another “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself…” – C.S. Lewis

“A friend is someone who knows all about you and still loves you.” – Elbert Hubbard

“Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.” – Mark Twain

“There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves, it is not my nature.” Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

“There is nothing better than a friend, unless it is a friend with chocolate.” -Linda Grayson