8 February MMXVI
Happy Chinese New Year….Year of the Monkey!
I have carried the same key chain since I was 18 years old. Other than the couple of years that my keys hung from a paint-penned plastic picture frame which held a high school photograph, the key chain I now carry is the only one I ever have.
It is made from an antique silver spoon handle. It is lovely. I received it in the mail from my friend, Michelle, during my freshman year away at college while I was living in a dorm room. It arrived during a spell when I was hopelessly homesick and heartbroken. It honored no specific occasion. It was a “just because” gift… as if she sensed my need to be encouraged even though I had not breathed a word of my heartache to her. The gift was so much more than a key chain to me. It was an anchor to home and to my longest standing friendship there.
Michelle and I have been friends since we were 5. We met in our kindergarten class at the Catholic school which we now both have children attending. We have been friends since. There have been seasons in our over forty years of friendship that we were not in contact as often as others but the friendship between us has never waned.
We remember the births of each others’ younger siblings. We received our First Holy Communion together when we were in elementary school and were Confirmed together right before we entered high school. We attended dances in school gymnasiums while venturing into new friendships at our different high schools. I drove her home from her brother’s funeral after his tragic death when we were teenagers and, more than 20 years later, our friendship was a quiet anchor through the death of my sister.
We were in each others’ weddings and sat vigil during the births of each others’ children. I sat nearby during her mother’s funeral mourning a woman who had mothered us both. Years later, I sat nearby as her father remarried understanding deeply how both bitterness and sweetness were mingling within my friend. Most everything we have navigated in our lives we have, to some extent, navigated together.
Michelle and I are so alike and so very different…perhaps the perfect cocktail for our lifelong friendship. We both adore old houses and antiques. We share an affinity for anything with a mysterious or elegant history. We effortlessly attach sappy sentiment to beautiful objects. We both treasure our faith and its roots and take, so very seriously, our role of bearing witness to it and passing it down to our children.
But Michelle has the patience of Job and the precious calm character that accompanies it. I possess neither. Many times through the years I have worried myself to death about her. I have held my breath during her pregnancies with both of her girls knowing she has never had the chicken pox or the vaccine to prevent it. I spent months terrified that she would contract it while carrying one of them. Each time I have nearly snapped from my worry for her I have asked her how SHE can be so calm while I am such a wreck. She calmly answers that she does not need to worry because I worry plenty for both of us.
Michelle has many gifts which I do not. One of them is her talent for sewing that was passed down so beautifully to her by her precious mother. It is truly an art. The perfectly even stitches that flow from her calm hands cause one to wonder how the mechanics of a machine are often not involved.
She has sewn for all of my children…clothes, blankets, toddler sized totes as birthday party favors…and several times she has sewn the blankets that snuggled my newborns on their trips home from the hospital. When our sixth child was born, Michelle made her homecoming blanket from a piece of my great grandmother’s chenille bedspread and lined it with a nursery fabric I had chosen. Its beauty and sentiment are so precious to me that I have never packed it away. It is always carefully folded somewhere within my sight.
Michelle recently informed me that she has a piece of the bedspread remaining that is large enough to make Song-Felicity’s crib blanket. The thought of my two youngest daughters having blankets made from the same familial fabric warms me deeply. I chose a feminine Asian fabric to pair with the sentimental bedspread remnant and began to envision the precious blanket that would result.
Last week we met after school pickup just a short distance away from the Kindergarten where we met over 40 years ago. We needed to discuss the blanket and I needed to pick some things up that she had sewn for me.
As a complete surprise, Michelle gave me two toddler sized dresses that she had made for Song-Felicity. She had finished both of them off with my daughter’s monogram. I never could have anticipated how deeply they would move me. Seeing Song-Felicity’s monogram for the first time in my hands…one initial chosen by China and the remaining ones chosen by us…something so personal to her…made me feel like I was somehow holding a part of her within my grasp.
Tiny dresses sewn just for her by the hands of one who has been dear to me for over four decades…a precious embrace of my baby girl in the lovely artistic love language of my true and longest-standing friend…no embrace of my baby could be more meaningful to my heart.
Michelle’s support of my journey to China and of my daughter awaiting me there is just a different expression of the same enduring foundation. A silver spoon key chain anchored me to home and to our friendship when I was a heartsick teenager. A sentimental blanket and tiny precious dresses will anchor me to the same sacred security as I head across the sea to bring my baby home.
“There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship.”
—- Saint Thomas Aquinas