Friends – I am in Cairo, Egypt on a speaking trip. It is a gift to be here in a place that has meant so much to me through the years. Though things have changed, there is a sweet familiarity all around me. It is in the palm trees and dusty roads; in the call to prayer and the easy smiles on faces. I will be writing more about where I am and what I’m doing when I return, but I wanted to post this piece that I wrote last week. I wrote it as I was thinking about my dear friend Karen, and how she welcomed me into her world so many years ago. Enjoy!
Karen entered my life 20 years ago on an Autumn Day. We had moved from Cairo to the picturesque and provincial coastal town of Essex in late August when the humidity and heat index were high. The kids entered school at the beginning of September and my husband and I found jobs in October.
It was a time of transition for our family. For me it was also a time of deep grief. Every day I grieved for what had been, for what I had left.
We found a church fairly quickly — my parents knew people at every Baptist church in New England and we found a church about a 15 minute drive from our house. We didn’t consider ourselves Baptists per se, but the people seemed friendly enough and we were slowly forging our way into the life of the church.
The day that I met Karen was a Sunday afternoon. Our family and hers had been invited to dinner at the home of another couple from the church. We stood outside on a lawn covered with golden leaves and Karen extended friendship to me. I almost dismissed her. I was in a place where I didn’t know what each day would bring and I wasn’t sure I could enter into friendship, much less with anyone as open and confident as Karen.
The truth is, I’m not sure I did take up her offer, or if she was just so persistent that soon I wouldn’t know what it was to not have her in my life.
Karen and her husband Jon had two little ones similar in age to two of our kids. We quickly identified a mutual love of curry, film, and fun. We didn’t really believe them when they said they loved making curry. Our experience of others in the area had confirmed that most people thought good curry was a bit of meat or vegetables with some water and curry powder thrown in. But we kept that to ourselves, and to this day we talk about how after a first bite of their curry, my husband and I looked at Jon and Karen and exclaimed “Wow! This is so much better than we expected!” We couldn’t even hold it in – we were that surprised.
Through the years we have filled our memories and photo albums with apple picking, pumpkin carving, watching rowers on the Charles River, birthday celebrations, walks by the ocean, long conversations over dinners, films, Christmas Eve gatherings, and so much more. When we moved to Phoenix, they visited us. When we moved back to the Boston area, they were right there, ready to welcome us in the middle of three feet of snow.
There is a safety and peace in our friendship that is special and not something that happens in every friendship. I can go for a long time not seeing Karen and then walk into her kitchen and, with a massive hug, pick up at the very place we left.
“It takes a long time to grow an old friend,” the quote says. There is an undeniable history in our friendship and the roots now go deep into the soil of New England. Through the years events and times together have come and gone, like the cycle of leaves on a tree. We have watched our children grow up and leave home, forging their way into worlds of work and marriage, sometimes complicated worlds where we cannot fix things the way we did when they were younger. We have been through cycles of sadness and cycles of joy, those normal rhythms that make up a life well-lived.
As I look at my friendship with Karen, I am grateful for so much – for persistence, for memories of open fires on the beach, long talks over good meals, laughter over films, deep soul talks that cleansed and made me walk away larger – but most of all I am grateful for a friendship that grows deep into my life soil.
Because it takes a long time to grow an old friend.