57: Finding My Friend

57: Finding My Friend

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Just Us Girls

Finding My Friend

You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.

~A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

I looked around the sanctuary. The pews were packed with mothers chatting. I picked at the seam of my jeans. Sighed deeply. Wondered why the loneliest place in the world could be smack in the middle of a crowd.

My husband and I had moved months before, and I needed a friend. A mom’s group seemed a likely place to look. And I had. But so far all I’d found was a greater dose of lonely. I arrived early each time, checked my boys into their classroom, and headed to the fellowship hall. But it was impossible to penetrate the mom clusters. I ended up standing on the fringes, engrossed in a plate of fruit, staring at red grapes, and smiling too hard, as if being Lone Ranger Mama was the most desirable thing in the world.

Clearly it was not.

I’d never had trouble making friends before. And it wasn’t that the women in the group were unkind. They were just established. Rooted deep. Most women had joined the group with an already-friend. There was a group that lived in the same neighborhood. Another group scrapbooked together, sharing time and hearts and double-sided tape. Another group went to the same church and another consisted of women whose husbands worked at the same plant.

I was alone. Looking for someone who was looking for someone, too.

There were a few moments for conversation before the guest speaker was introduced. I gathered my courage and turned to the mother next to me. “How are you this morning?”

She smiled big. “I’m good. Doing very well.” She looked at my nametag. “And how are you, Shawnelle?”

“Fine, just fine,” I said. “Do you…”

But she had turned and was, in a moment, deeply engaged with the friend on her left.

I tried to smile and then pawed through my bag. Better to be on an imaginary hunt than to sit alone, staring ahead.

A moment later the guest speaker took the podium. And the topic of the day? Friendships of Women. Great. I didn’t want to stay. I thought about a quiet exit. Slipping to the back of the room. Passing though the heavy oak doors, gathering my children and going on home. I wrapped my hands around the handles of my bag. I didn’t want to hear about friendships when I couldn’t seem to find one.

But then the speaker began.

For the next hour I half-listened, moving in and out, hearing about why friendships are important and thinking about the ones I’d left behind. I missed sitting at my kitchen table, sharing from deep places while the children laughed and played. I missed the ringing phone and a sweet voice on the other end that sometimes was just a request: “Pray for me? My day is wild.” I missed days at the park, pushing swings, when sentences came fragment-style because that’s life and the season of it all.

It was all good. So very good.

“Let’s take a moment,” the speaker said, “and share about what you want in a friend. We’ll move around the room. Just share, in a few words, what friendship means to you.”

My pulse picked up tempo and I glanced at the back door. Share about friendship? Here? Now? The very thing I lamented over, each week?

No way.

I felt the sharp sting of tears and I blinked hard to push them away. But the question had rippled through the room and the spotlight was only three mothers away and knew I’d better string it together fast.

All I could do was speak from the heart.

When I felt all eyes shift to me, I stood and breathed deep. “Friendship to me is quiet. It’s listening. It’s sitting at a table, hands wrapped around a mug of something warm, listening to the heart of the woman across from you.”

I took my place on the pew and only remembered to breathe again when the mother next to me stood. There. I’d said it. And I hadn’t cried.

Now I could slip out and leave.

It only took a few moments to gather my boys. Toddler room. Nursery. Coats and hats and bags and bottles. In no time at all we were ready to go. I walked down the hall, one child in my arms, one child at my side. There was a solid flow of chatter from my toddler, the most conversation I’d had all morning.

I almost missed the voice. It was strong and sweet and coming from behind me. “Shawnelle?”

I turned to find a mother I hadn’t noticed before. Her smile was bright and wide and her eyes were a gentle blue. I could tell from her approach that she was comfortable, confident, and kind.

“My name is Sarah. And I just wanted to find you because, well, I liked what you said.”

“What I said?”

“About friendship. About listening. And sharing something warm. I like those things, too.”

Sarah and I began to talk. She bent on one knee to speak to my son. She whispered to the babe in my arms. And in a short amount of time I learned that she and I shared hobby interests like reading and crafts, and she was nearly my neighbor, too.

I also learned that I’d found a friend.

I continued to attend the mom’s group, with Sarah there, by my side. We learned to look for other moms who were new and unsettled, maybe looking for a friend. But we found those sweet, quiet times, too, and we shared many while our children played and laughed and stretched and grew. There were summer picnics and fireworks. Walks in the parks. Swims in the sun. There were fun times and tough times and laughter and tears.

And somehow the years whispered right past.

Sarah no longer lives in the neighborhood. She lives in another state. And our children have become teens, those mom group days are gone, and many things have changed.

But Sarah is still my friend.

And once a year she comes for a visit. We sit at my table. We sip from mugs and enjoy something warm to drink. Conversation flows fast and free. The common ties still bind us. Things pick up right where we left off and it’s like no time has passed. And I feel the same way I did all those years ago, standing with my babes, in that hall.…

I’m so grateful to have found my friend.

~Shawnelle Eliasen

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