I remember at age five walking in our new neighborhood with my 6 ½ year older sister. I had the idea of knocking on the neighbors’ doors and asking if they had any kids we could play with. Nothing like announcing yourself, taking a risk, and not even knowing it. Sometimes there were kids our age but for the most part we got lots of cookies and smiles.  

Oh, for those innocent days when we looked cute and had no inhibitions. At 70 and uprooted, it isn’t quite as easy to knock on peoples’ doors to find new friends. I often have that gnawing sensation in my belly—not fear, but a shyness about revealing too much or too little. Maybe I’m embarrassed that I’m alone or that I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t think it’s pride as I have no need to impress.

Thinking back on how I met my longtime friends, I realize that friendships were forged by a shared insecurity, craziness, newness, or an unanticipated experience. When I moved to Miami Beach at age 16, I knew no one. Enter the girl who walked everywhere, wore culottes (now known as skorts) and didn’t know anything about make-up. My short stature, my oddness, my demeanor, said newbie, stay clear. But in homeroom –15 minutes a day, I met my most enduring friendship that still shines today. I’d say we were two peas in pod but not in looks, habits, abilities, but in how we saw the world. Laughter, coupled with philosophy, set the stage for what was to come. Our favorite phrases … it never stops, or …oh, Dude…took us through college, marriages that failed, travel trips, illness, loss, and periods of calm – all from afar.

Something about vulnerability and honesty slips through the crevices of walls we have built over the years. A shared experience, a project reveals what we can’t express in words. I remember building a library with a dedicated group of neighbors in the small town I lived in. I was a new mom with three children five and under looking for distractions. The library was in a school cafeteria opened only when the school wasn’t in session. The kindness and dedication of the librarians motivated me to donate time, skills, and laughter. The library remains a hub of the area and one of the retired librarians continues our 40-year friendship no matter the why or the where.

Stepping into the unknown with strangers on a trip beyond one’s home borders, gives everyone even footing. We all stumble, but thrown together for a month, alliances develop. Not always, but on a few of my foreign trips, a fellow traveler will stand out. Not usually for who they were, or what they did, but for their kindness, laughter, and willingness to be open. They have seeped past our protective layer and become part of our life. They have seen me dressed in another culture dancing with joy.

Most of these friendships are long distance because life has taken us down different paths. We choose our friends, the ones we that are willing to listen, not judge, and to hang-out with us on a rainy day or month—that knows how we maneuver, that is present even if we want to disappear.

As I plant roots in my new home, I smile often. I have one-liners as I recognize people that I pass daily on my walks. I talk about their dog, or their garden. I listen to their stories. I take time to be present. One lady eats at the same restaurant every day. We wave, I know nothing of her life. One day she asked me my name, I asked for hers as well. Another time I talked to a couple who were eating gelato—the same flavor I had ordered. We’ve gone to pick blackberries together and went to a sports-bar to watch Serena Williams play her last tournament. I drank what I thought was a non-alcoholic beer. Yummy, but I was content with three zips and pleased that I only had a short walk home. I’ve joined a walking group that meets monthly. Most are my age and delightful. And still I have that gnawing sensation.

Living in a condominium is like living on campus at college. I learn the habits of the occupants, relishing in our humanness. However, we wear blinders in the wee hours of the morning when they are half awake taking out their dog  in their robe, and I, clad in yoga clothes hair up on my head, slip into the gym. The best place to exchange niceties is in mailroom. Deliveries tell stories of peoples wants, needs, and preferences. I’ve made some friends on my floor. Across the way is a woman the age of my adult kids, she often visits with a glass of wine in hand as she unravels from a stressful day. I’ve acquired another buddy who loves to walk to parks or venture into more cosmopolitan areas. Together we take the light rail into the city, visit the Chihuly or other art museums, go for lunch.

Friendships take time, a willingness to be open. I note that so far, all the wonderful people I have met, slip back to their private worlds. None of us want to step too far out from our comfort zone into anyone else’s life. I long for those days when our armor was more malleable, when we weren’t afraid to reveal something personal. Authenticity—not charm or impressive pasts –is harder to come by. In lieu of knocking on doors, I’ll continue to be kind, smile, and even bake cookies for others.  I cherish all my long enduring friendships and those that will come. If I cross paths with you in future… say hi… who knows where it will lead.

Thanks to www.Wordsmith.org and A.Word.A.Day with Anu Garg, I have received for the last twelve years in my in-box a “word” with pronunciation, meaning, etymology, and  usage.  I must confess that the words eek into my brain and sometimes into my stories. Here are two words that struck me as noteworthy:

PRONUNCIATION: (sin-uh-STER-uh-tee)

MEANING: noun: 1. Left-handedness.2. Skillfulness in the use of the left hand. 3. Awkwardness or clumsiness. 4. Evilness, unluckiness, etc. 

ETYMOLOGY:  From Latin sinister (left, left hand, unlucky). Earliest documented use: 1623. Some related words are ambisinistrous/ambisinister (clumsy with both hands) and dexterous.

PRONUNCIATION: (suhf, sau)

MEANING: verb intr.: To make a moaning, sighing, whistling, murmuring, or rustling sound.
noun: 1. Such a sound. 2. A rumor. 

ETYMOLOGY: From Old English swogan (to rustle, whistle, etc.). Earliest documented use: before 1066.

My Usage:   

I watched as the new lass soughed as she walked in, a low-pitched moan that rustled the air. I couldn’t tell if her sinisterity was due to her eyes or the skill for which she used her left hand to juggle her apple. Was she evil or amazing? 

What is called discretion in men is called cunning in animals.

Jean de la Fontaine, poet and fabulist (8 Jul 1621-1695) 

To seek understanding before acting, yet to trust my instincts when action is called for. Never to avoid danger from fear, never to seek out danger for its own sake. Never to conform to fashion from fear of eccentricity, never to be eccentric from fear of conformity.

Steven Brust, novelist (b. 23 Nov 1955) 

There is nothing like a road trip to discover more about characters. Sealy and Paul step out of their normal setting to travel to another city. On a mission they are thrown together for nights and days. Alone, without the formalities of the bed and breakfast, more of their quirks and reactions draw them closer as they discover what is required as the past meets the present. 

I’ve found the BEST FRIEND in reading books. This is where I get see the unfiltered inside of a character. As a reader I don’t have to worry about my behavior only follow the journey of another. I witness dilemmas resolved or presented and I can reflect. I listen, observe, learn, all from my kitchen table or in the comfort of my bed.   I leave my armor at the door, step into their lives. These friends endure—written for all readers to witness.     

My latest reading friendships include I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, The Book of Lost Things, by John Connolly, Miller’s Valley, by Anna Quindlen, Homecoming byYaa Gyasi, and At the Edge of the Orchard, by Tracy Chevalier.   Nelson writes of twins who tell their version of growing up devoted only to become enemies and how they work their way back with love. Connolly’s book is one of fantasy bordering on reality as a twelve-year-old tries to save the memory of his dead mother and how he returns from another world to save his own sense of family. Quindlen develops a new vision of life for her main character.   Chevalier weaves the history of apple trees, with the Wild West,  as a man who finds his place in the worlds offered him.  

I continue with live storytelling each month at the Highline Museum in Burien, WA. They offer free workshops to hone one’s skills in capturing an audience in 7 minutes. I think this fulfills my personal dream of being a comedian. Hopefully my antics accompanying my essay-like stories brings a laugh or two.

Aging Outside

Young inside
I can’t hide
Desires of Connectivity
No hook-ups for me
I seek the daisy chain
A garland of blossoms
Entwined with  
Green naivety 
The yellow beauty
Of sunrises and sunsets
To melt my shield
And enter my heart

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