72: Time Out with a Friend

72: Time Out with a Friend

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Just Us Girls

Time Out with a Friend

But if the while I think on thee, dear friend, All losses are restored and sorrows end.

~William Shakespeare

My friend Ruth and I had talked about vacationing together at the beach for years. Every summer we’d declare this was the year. We took out our day planners, threw some dates back and forth, but nothing ever materialized. Other things always seemed more pressing.

But in the summer of 2004, I got serious about the matter. My daughter — my only child — had just graduated from high school and I had run around in circles like a wild woman, trying to do a million things in the months prior. The frantic pace had left me wrung out and done in.

And that was just the physical side. Emotionally, I was an even bigger mess. Not only was I facing an empty nest, I was about to turn fifty and, quite frankly, I was terrified. I just needed to get away from it all. I needed to hear myself think.

So, one afternoon I sent Ruth an e-mail and said, in essence, it’s now or never, girlfriend. She must have sensed my desperation, because in a few weeks we had set a date.

“I’m buying my plane ticket tomorrow,” I told her one evening. “No backing out now.”

“I’ll be there,” she said. I knew she meant it. As youngsters, Ruth and I had spent summers together. She’d traveled with my family on vacations. We double dated as young women, and kept in touch after marrying, even though we lived hundreds of miles from each other. Distance kept us apart, yes, but Ruth and I were always there for each other in spirit. I couldn’t wait to see her again.

Since we’re both beach lovers, the plan was for me to fly to her hometown of Jackson, Mississippi. We’d drive a few hours to a beach condo in Orange Beach, Alabama, positioned right on the amazing emerald Gulf Shores, then spend six days doing whatever, whenever. No time restraints. No responsibilities.

It sounded like a fairy tale. The mere thought that I might actually rest while on vacation sent delighted chills up my spine. I wasn’t sure I had ever done such a thing.

The days leading up to my departure seemed eternal, but finally, on a sunny Saturday morning, there I stood in baggage claim, waiting for my suitcase to appear, when I heard a familiar voice calling my name. I hadn’t seen Ruth in ten years, but running toward each other, the time melted away.

Stuffing the luggage into the car, we headed southeast. By evening we stood on the balcony of our condo, gazing out at an ocean stretched like a shiny blue tray, as far as the eye could see. Almost paradise.

“Oh, my!” Ruth said, her voice taking on that giddy pitch that makes her so charming. “I can’t believe we did this!”

I giggled like a schoolgirl. “Me neither. I keep thinking I’ll feel guilty, but I don’t. Isn’t this fabulous?”

As I prepared for bed that evening, I wrote in my journal: “Vacationing with family is wonderful, but sometimes the heart needs to rest with a friend.”

The next six days were filled with a simple richness that surpassed my expectations.

Mornings — defined as whenever we got up — found us drinking coffee at a sunny table on the balcony. Just below, an azure ocean stretched as far as the eye could see, while the waves splashed rhythmically to the shore, and back again, as if taking our worries with them.

Except for one day we’d flagged for shopping, our afternoons were unplanned and unhurried. We soaked up the sun. We took naps. We strolled along white beaches, looking for seashells. We stressed about nothing, barely keeping up with what day it was.

One afternoon found us reclined in beach chairs, kicking our feet in the sand, feeling the wind in our hair. It had been a difficult day for me. Ruth knew I had arrived with some concerns, one being that my daughter had announced she would not be attending college in the fall, but was going to get her own place and continue working full-time instead. She was barely eighteen, and I feared that she was making the wrong decision. I felt helpless and afraid.

As I sat there, pondering this, a sigh escaped my lips. Not a big sigh, but just enough to be heard.

“You have to let her go, Dayle.” Ruth interrupted my thoughts. She has a unique way of knowing what I’m thinking, and exactly what to say. With her son close to graduating college, she and I had carried on this conversation before in e-mails and letters. “The hardest part for me with my son,” she said, “was giving up control and understanding that he has to make his own choices… and his own mistakes.”

“You’re right, my friend,” I said, “but why does it have to be so blooming hard?”

She had the audacity to laugh. “It really will get better. It really will.”

Hearing her say so boosted my mood and affirmed, again, why I had come here.

Evening hours were perhaps my favorite of all. Ruth generally concocted some delicious sweet something — loaded with calories — I’d brew a pot of coffee, and we’d end the day on the balcony, much in the same way it had begun. Our conversations were comfortable and unforced. At times we laughed so hard it hurt, remembering funny stories of yesterday. Other times, we uncovered our souls, revealing old scars and some fresh wounds. Then there were times when we said nothing at all.

During those still moments, I recalled the words of Anne Morrow Lindbergh. “Here on the island,” she wrote in Gift from the Sea, “I find I can sit with a friend without talking, sharing the day’s last sliver of pale green light on the horizon.”

One evening, we sat on the balcony, watching the sun set in a smear of red. While a slender candle flickered behind a hurricane glass, we talked of life and love, and then the subject turned to Lori.

I’ll never forget the day in 1988 when Ruth called to say that her two-year-old daughter had been diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a common childhood cancer, with no known cure. I remember collapsing into a chair and weeping at the news. Lori had been born eleven days before my Anna Marie. I assumed our girls would grow up and become friends. But life takes tragic turns sometimes. Two years later — after a courageous fight for her life — Lori passed away.

In the difficult years following her daughter’s death, Ruth and I talked often. We cried together. We prayed together. We talked about the hereafter.

“It’s hard to believe that Lori would be Anna’s age now,” Ruth said. “Eighteen!”

“I know. It seems impossible she’s been gone that long,” I said. “Does it ever get easier?”

She thought a minute. “In time, you don’t cry as much. You just learn to cope.”

“I can’t imagine your pain, Ruth.”

“And I hope you never have to,” she said, her voice filled with emotion.

The next day I received a call from home. Anna Marie had been involved in an accident, totaling her little yellow Mustang. Other than a few bruises, she was fine.

I wanted to fly home immediately, but my husband said no, things were all right, please don’t worry.

I hung up the phone and let the tears fall. Ruth walked over and hugged me tight. “Thank God she’s okay, Dayle.”

I could only nod, thinking what Ruth knew so well already: Life is uncertain. There’s no promise of tomorrow.

On our final night together, I was somewhat surprised by my feelings. Part of me felt sad to be leaving the seashore behind, saying goodbye to my dear friend, not knowing when we’d meet like this again, or if we’d ever get to. Yet part of me was ready to get back to the world of deadlines and demands. I felt energized, ready to resume my life.

As I mulled this over, the reason became clear. My goal had been accomplished! I had come here fragmented and worn out, but spending quality time with a friend had made me whole again. I was now equipped for the next stretch of the road.

Later I would write in my journal: “Every woman needs unhurried time in which to refuel and replenish her energies. Time out with a friend is the perfect solution.”

~Dayle Allen Shockley

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