Today is the birthday of my best friend from childhood, Elizabeth. She lived just across the street, and my first sleepover away from my family was at her house. Her mother, a children’s librarian, signed me up for my first public library card when I was six. Her family had one of the earliest black-and-white TVs in our neighborhood, and it was in her living room that I encountered the original Mouseketeers—Annette, Jimmie, Karen, Cubby—and watched I Love Lucy before there was any such thing as reruns of I Love Lucy. As teenagers, we told each other our secrets. Together we laughed and cried over boyfriends, and we played Johnny Mathis and Christy Minstrels albums for hours on end. We also swiped—and smoked—the freebie cigarettes her father stashed in a hall closet, cartons and cartons of Marlboros he received as a job “perk” (he was a chemist for Phillip Morris before lung cancer killed him). When she turned sixteen, her family got a second car, a baby blue convertible, in which we tooled around town on weekends. Six months later when I turned sixteen, she threw a surprise birthday party for me. That’s also the year we insisted on sitting together—and apart from our parents—at the midnight Christmas Eve service at the neighborhood Episcopal church.
Even though we attended different colleges, our history of friendship kept us close enough to be bridesmaids in each other’s weddings. But after she and her husband moved several states away and her visits home became less frequent, we began losing touch. I am not sure when I saw her last. Perhaps at her father’s funeral sometime in the 1980s? Her mother developed Alzheimer’s, and I did not learn she had died until weeks after the fact. I felt sad that I had not known, and I wrote Elizabeth and told her so. I never heard anything back. That was fifteen years ago.
Thinking about Elizabeth today, her sixty-fifth birthday, I am filled with gratitude for the many gifts of our friendship, particularly for the ways in which I learned from her what it means to be a friend. But I confess to still carrying a little hurt that she did not let me know about her mother’s death, and I cannot help but wonder if, prior to that, I had done something that hurt her. Probably I will never know—though I have come to understand that friends, even mature friends and even best friends, can inadvertently wound one another. That’s one of the risks of being vulnerable, which we are, I think, with our friends.
This, then, is my prayer. That if there is some way in our past in which I have aggrieved her, that she can forgive me. That if ever she thinks back to our long friendship with fondness and gratitude, that she can rejoice. Most especially I pray that her life continues to be blessed, as mine has been, by the presence of friends: people to whom she can tell her secrets; people she can sit with in church on Christmas Eve; people with whom she can tool around town, even if not in a baby blue convertible, and listen to music, even if it’s no longer Johnny Mathis.
Happy Birthday, Elizabeth. Thanks be to God!