During February and early March, I don't go out in the evening very often. Once I've come home from work, it is difficult to get up the energy to put on layers of clothes, brush snow off the car again, and drive through the dark over icy roads that threaten to send my vehicle careening into a ditch. Frequent snowstorms make it easy to stay home every night by the fire.
In April, it feels wonderful to walk out to the car without mittens, get in the car without scraping ice off the windshield, and drive the speed limit over dry pavement. Spring means leaving the house more often and re-connecting with friends that I didn't see very often during the winter months.
On Thursday of last week, I decided to give myself a day off, take a day for friendship. After the long ordeal with my husband's kidney stone surgery, I felt a need to connect with friends, to get out of the house, and to have conversations with people who know me well.
I began the day by spending a couple hours on the telephone with a long-distance friend. Our busy schedules meant that we hadn't had a chance to talk in well over a month. Exchanging emails is never as satisfying as hearing someone's voice. And some of my long-distance friends have such lovely accents!
For lunch, I met a local friend at a restaurant where we could sit in a sunny window and eat some Middle-Eastern food. After a conversation that was both serious and silly, I drove home to run some errands with my youngest son, and then headed back out to meet another friend for dinner at a Thai Restaurant, where we talked over stir-fired veggies and rice. We continued our conversation in the parking lot, sitting comfortably in the front seat of her car while the sun set over the building behind us.
What I love about my closest friends is that they aren't afraid to tell me the stuff I don't want to hear. Oh, they say it in a loving way, of course, with all kinds of joking mixed in, but they are honest with me. I hear things like "What? Again? Do you just like banging your head against a brick wall?" or "Oh, the caretaking trap! I do that too!" or "Why would you CHOOSE to do that?"
In the classroom sometimes, when we are talking about sensitive issues like racism or sexism or homophobia, I'll encourage students to be honest, to take a risk in speaking up, to move past polite conversation. Because tiptoeing around issues never solves anything. I find frankness so much more helpful. I feel the same way about friendship: the friends who play the role of cheerleader, always positive but never calling me on anything, have limited value. I depend on friends who expect me to take responsibility for my behavior, who remind me that I have choices, and who challenge me to take control over my life.
As I was driving home Thursday night, I felt grateful for friends who are willing to take the risk to be honest with me, to tell me the stuff I don't want to hear, to be the kind of friend I try to be to them. These friends are willing to discuss my issues, notice my faults, talk about my struggles, and see the darkest parts of me. And yet, they like me anyhow. They give me compliments even while they point out my blind spots. They choose to spend time with me. They choose to be my friends.