If we are lucky, and engaging, we meet new people everyday. My friend Jeff makes it a goal to meet a new person everyday; I think this is a lofty and wonderful goal. We meet people on the street, at work, at the market making groceries, at the bookstore or the bar and anywhere else you might possibly find yourself at any moment of every day. These people, in the most minor to the most unimaginable, impact our lives in myriad ways. I have found myself wondering as of late how we determine which of the people we meet are the ones that will ultimately matter in our lives.
I have decided, through many years of introspection, and well, just life experience, that the people that matter most are the ones that lift us and cheer us and stick around when it is really most inconvenient for them. Case in point: when I was studying for my Ph.D. comprehensive exams, arguably the most stressful six months of my life, I called two friends – Colleen Purcell and Beth Palumbo – everyday, for six months. Every day. For six months. Imagine that loyalty would you? They WERE loyal and, they stuck around and they answered the phone and allowed me to vent to them every day, for what seemed like an unbearably long six months. They held fast in my most awful trying to “survive-on-coffee-and-cigarettes-and-beer” moments while I read every single day for eight hours and tried to push through the anxiety that still overwhelms me on a regular basis while I worked my way through hundreds of history books on my way to taking comprehensive examinations that unquestionably plagues every Ph.D. student with a genuine and palpable fear of failure. Colleen and Beth were there. Every day. And they were there when five professors walked out a closed door conference that seemed to have lasted hours (and, in reality, only lasted fifteen minutes) while said professors deliberated over whether or not I would pass and go on to teach and write my dissertation, and shook my hand and informed me that I had, indeed, successfully completed the horrific hoop jump that is written and oral examinations. I called them from my tiny, bland office cubicle that early afternoon, half asleep and half in denial, and quietly thanked them, with whatever inadequate words I could muster up, for their steadfast support. I called them again later that day, after I drank two thousand and twenty four martinis (dirty) at my local haunt, The Riverworks, and finally got through the phone issues that we don’t experience today to reiterate in a somewhat more coherent and exhilarated state that I was, in fact, ABD (all-but-dissertation) and yes I would live to see another day. They were first people I called, not my father who is my stalwart friend and biggest cheerleader, but them. (Of course, I called him next). And they were there when I drove to Ohio, a week later, after grading exams and finishing for the semester and gathering my things and my dog and when I was way too thin to be recognizable after barely eating for months due to the stress. They were there when I took a long needed shower in Kent, Ohio, at Beth’s lovely apartment after driving all day and they were there when they handed me a glass of wine and seeing my woefully thin naked body said I needed to eat something, anything to put weight back on. They took me out to celebrate that evening. We cheered to the fact that I was now just going to teach and write and that I had gotten through the most stressful time in my life and I survived it. They proudly told everyone they could that their friend was ABD and was on her way to being a college professor. Of what I remember of that day and evening, I was blissfully content. And even though time and partners and kids lacrosse games and generally just daily busy lives have lessened the amount of time we spend together or on the phone, they are, still to this day, the two people that matter the most to me in this world. I probably don’t remind them of this as often as I should.
As I’ve aged I’ve found myself fairly discerning about the people that I allow in my “inner circle.” I’m lucky to have an amazing group of friends who are genuine and quite lovely. They all work hard and think hard about the world and embrace love and dare to love and sound off when shit gets hard and tiresome and ask when they need assistance. We are a diverse group (politically, economically, religiously, and culturally) of about fifteen to twenty people that check in every week or so and drink great craft beers or bourbon or both, together. And there are others. My therapist often comments on the fact that she has never met anyone who has a group of friends like I do. We’re here for each other through the good and the bad. Sometimes we hike it out, sometimes we simply text each other to offer support and love. I consider these folks my Bethlehem family.
We all need people that matter in our lives. Science has shown that people who have solid, genuine relationships are happier and live longer and more satisfied lives. I have a fairly satisfactory life. It’s a work in progress, always. But today, I celebrate the friends that are my family, whether they live next-door or many hours away. To be sure, friends are the family we choose for ourselves. I have chosen well.