My dear friend Jolene celebrated her 44th birthday tonight, and we joined her for tree decorating, catching up with her teenage sons who grew too quickly, and, of course– eating good sushi. I’ve told the story of my friendship with Jolene easily one thousand times, but I’m not sure I’ve ever written about it. Moving to the North Country of New Hampshire from Portsmouth, the oceanside city and friends I loved fiercely, was a difficult transition for me. And it wasn’t until the moment I sat in Jolene’s dental chair, giggling with her, my lovely hygienist, that I felt I was home again here amid mountains. The way we tell the story is that we laughed so much during that one hour appointment that she felt solid about offering me a place to live in her sweet apartment because I needed a new place to live as my reason for leaving Portsmouth hadn’t worked out the way I envisioned. Later that week I moved in, and life has never been the same.
She married and had children long before me, and her boys were those crazy babies and toddlers I could snuggle and spoil and spend all sorts of time with. Then, like always, those crazy babies grow up to be teenagers, towering over us and wrestling my babies and showing them all the ways of the world like like video games, sports, and cell phones. Camden made sure to tell Carver he was in 13 when he got his first cell phone when asked. Thirteen is a good age. Later in the car on the way home, Greta asked how old I was when I had my first own phone. Like my own phone, I clarified? I think I was 25 maybe. They were horrified. Did I make bad decisions and that’s why I couldn’t have one? No, I explained, cell phones just didn’t exist. My two children exchanged glances in the back seat which could be interpreted as, “This is like that ET movie from the 80s we watched where aliens landed and maybe stole Mom for a little while?”
Jolene’s other dear friend was visiting from Colorado and home for the holidays and to paint Jolene’s house. One of the most amazing aspects of friendship is getting to know your besties’ besties– whether they are from high school or college or the land between that and 44 or 66 or 88. Usually, hanging out with friends with a common denominator brings nothing but exceptional laughter and extraordinary love.
So, we wanted a photo to document the 44th birthday with girlfriends, along with these exponentially growing children. Her ninth grade son is a superior photographer with entrepreneurial spirit. He had a simple task of taking our picture with an iPhone in front of his mother’s newly decorated fake Christmas tree. I had taught HS English; Jolene had picked teeth, and the other Heather had painted Jolene’s living room all day. Yet we imagined we would be lovely in this photo. However, such was not the case. We looked. We laughed. We asked for a redo. He took 27 photos of us in front of her Christmas tree, and finally we stopped when the other Heather recognized aloud, “Maybe this is just how we look now.” When we were teenagers there would have been one photo, and it would not have been seen for a week while Rite Aid or CVS developed the actual film.
And so after a long day of work and evening of birthday celebration and terrible photos, I sat down with the news along with images of President George Bush’s casket as people paid respects in Washington, DC the day before his state funeral. I watched the former Senator Bob Dole approach the casket in his wheelchair, only to stand with support and salute his friend and colleague tearfully, both men into their 90s. As someone who did not see eye to eye with either man’s political beliefs, I found myself crying at the beauty and solemnity of the moment, the power of his salute, the concern these times are coming to an end. These giants of history at the brink of their own mortality modeling for a nation what it means to be truly old and still deserving of respect and reverence, despite their beliefs. The photos of George Bush as a young military officer, the ones of him falling in love with Barbara, or as a dad or grandpa or speaking about this past election back in November or at his Maine getaway home demonstrate these phases of a man whose life was well lived. Doubtful he ever looked at a photo of himself at Barbara’s funeral and wondered where those wrinkles came from or the age spots or how the years had caught up them.
The other Heather could not have articulated any more clearly, that despite how young we feel on most days, that “Maybe this is just how we look now” and we should be good with that.