Relaxing on Adirondack chairs in the protected garden of my brain sit a handful of friends who have contributed to my personal growth. They don’t know this, of course, so they will remain anonymous. I believe everyone we encounter teaches us a lesson. These lessons help us grow as they multiply and spread to other gardens in life.
Phillip – Tolerance
I was active in the theatre group in high school and part of college. Phillip was a fellow actor and a friend. We acted in plays together, painted sets together, and traveled together with other drama students in a children’s theatre ensemble to elementary schools around the state. Phillip was gay. No one was supposed to know that he was gay because, after all, this was the 60’s…and that was just something no one talked about…but everyone knew, and nobody really cared. Phillip was a terrific dancer, and I loved to dance. We went to the Junior/Senior prom together, and made quite an impression with our unique twists and twirls on the dance floor. I learned tolerance from Phillip, and I learned to accept everyone no matter how they differed from me or from the norm – whatever the norm is. Phillip made the music sound sweeter. And when I think of Phillip sitting there in my mind’s garden, I have more tolerance for other people.
Kathy – Supportive
Kathy has been my friend since junior high school. We did a lot of crazy things together. She is the type of person who, after not seeing each other for a long period of time, can pick up the conversation where we left off without skipping a beat. The day after my mother died, I called Kathy to come over to my mother’s house because I just couldn’t stay in that big house by myself. She brought a bottle of wine, and we found a big fat cigar that my cousin had left behind. We sat on the back porch, drank wine, shared that cigar, and reminisced about all the craziness in our life growing up and in that house. We stayed in touch. I sent her birthday cards and Christmas cards, but for some reason she didn’t respond after awhile. I haven’t heard from, nor have I contacted, Kathy in a long time. I think about her often – every time I go to Albuquerque and whenever I see October 21st on the calendar – her birthday. I just don’t have the courage to call – strange isn’t it, since I’m using her as an example of being supportive. But there she sits in my memory garden reminding me of the night she came over to support me after my mother died, and I try to be supportive to others.
Dr. Emily – Ambitious, Gracious, Respectful
Emily held a respected and influential position at the state department of education. When I first heard Emily speak at a conference, I placed her high on a pedestal, much like the raised podium she spoke from. She had earned her PhD, she visited teachers around the state, ensuring that they were following the business and marketing curriculum, she was an excellent speaker, and she organized and directed teacher workshops to help us hone our teaching skills. She was untouchable, a queen . . . she was intimidating. I respected her for all that she had accomplished and was accomplishing. When she became the president of the state professional education association, I was elected treasurer. I was humbled. I wanted to do everything I could to please her. I taught myself Quickbooks so I could keep the organization’s books in order. I served on her committee to help organize the state conference. I busted my butt to impress her. Then, years later, we became friends, and I discovered that she was just a regular person, who had a dog. We actually played golf together, drank wine together, and went to a casino together in Reno . . . yes, this queen actually enjoyed playing craps. Here are the attributes I try to emulate to this day: Ambitious. Emily is ambitious, working her way up to be one of the top people at the department of education and earning her doctorate in mid life. Gracious. Emily is very gracious, always giving little gifts of gratitude to me and others if we have lunch together or gather at other ladies’ houses. Respectful. Emily respects all people and has never talked about anyone behind their backs. Emily is enjoying retirement in my little garden, and she sits there to remind me to be ambitious, gracious, and respectful.
Mary – Generous
Mary is the most generous person I know. She will do anything for you. She lavishes her grandchildren with wonderful gifts; she buys her daughters beautiful clothes and jewelry; and offers to pays when her friends cannot. When Mary came to visit me in MN last summer, she insisted on buying our wine for the weekend. Mary enjoys her expensive wine. We opened one that had turned to vinegar, so after Mary left, I took it back to the store for a refund and mailed Mary a check for the wine. After getting several month’s worth of bank statements without the check clearing, I asked her if she was going to cash my check. She simply said no. She always is gracious in opening up her house for friends and neighbors. One year after a Christmas party, and the wine had been flowing, I found myself curled up on her living room sofa, asleep. She was covering me up with a blanket. I asked her where my husband was, and she told me he’d left. Mary insisted that I go into her back bedroom to sleep until morning, and then call my husband to come pick me up. Mary enjoys toasting me in my mind’s garden, reminding me to be generous to others.
Sorority – Unconditional Love and Acceptance
One thing I’ve learned from joining the sisterhood of my social sorority is everyone’s unconditional love and acceptance. We all have different backgrounds and professions. We migrated from a variety of different locations around the United States. But none of the ladies are judgmental or catty. We share stories, we play cards, we support each other, we laugh until our sides hurt. I can truly say that they have contributed to my personal pleasure, making the music sound sweeter, the wine taste richer, and the laughter ring louder because they are there. My garden is blooming.