In the middle of January, one of my dearest friends sent me an email saying that she had a New Year’s resolution in mind and it directly involved me. I was intrigued, but didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about it. I don’t do resolutions, after all.
I forgot all about the joint “resolution” until February 2, when my friend emailed me again to tell me that her proposed resolution was to spend one month writing – to each other. Not the chit-chatty emails or texts that we are used to, but real writing. Each day for the month of February, she proposed, she would write to me. I could respond, or not, but the plan was to share her writing – and herself – in a more intentional, thoughtful way.
Obviously, this idea made my downright giddy. I‘m not a big fan of resolutions, per se, but I am a big fan of YOU and of writing, I wrote back. Count me in!
And so began our month-long writing adventure that was part journaling, part confessional, part spiritual practice, part conversation, and entirely transformative. With the exception of a couple of days here and there, we kept up our writing practice for the entire month. We wrote wispy poems and funny limericks. We wrote ranty essays and risky confessions. We wrote rambling freewrites that jumped from one topic to the next. Braver in our writing than we might have been face-to-face, we wrote about marriage and friendship, parenting and politics, education and religion, forgiveness and acceptance. And while not everything we wrote was deep and profound, every single word came from a place of purpose, self-awareness, openness, and vulnerability. We dug deep, dove down below the surface, and sifted through the weeds to see what treasures we could find.
This friend is one of my very closest friends, a Sister-Friend. We have been friends for decades, seen each other at our best and at our worst. We’ve celebrated each other’s joys and mourned each other’s sorrows. We know each as well as any friend can. And yet it became clear shortly into our writing adventure that there were whole worlds of things that we haven’t talked about in a very long time.
Sure, we talk often, regularly in fact. And, as I said, she is a Sister-Friend. So our conversations are more intimate and personal than most. And yet somehow, over the past few years, our conversations shifted from being about us to being about our kids.
Friendships change over time, no doubt, but this season of life spent parenting young children seems to be among the most monumental. My friends and I used to have hours to talk and listen and hash out our ideas. We talked about things like love and God and what made us feel most scared, angry, loved, or safe. We talked about our Big Questions and our Dreamy Dreams. But for the past several years, it seems that most of my conversations center around children and the mechanics of parenting. We still talk about the Big Questions and our Dreamy Dreams, but much less often. And we rarely dive deep into the weeds; life is hard enough up here on the surface.
With two young boys, there is no question that my husband and I are in the thick of it. And so are most of our friends. We are in a beautiful, yet sometimes overwhelming, season of life. We are building families and careers, and nurturing marriages, all at the same time. We are gaining obligations and losing sleep. As friends, we are spreading out and away from each other with new jobs and opportunities calling. Our priorities are shifting, and tightening. We are busy and pulled in a million different directions. Many days feel like a struggle just to stay afloat up here on the surface, limping into bedtime some nights. The idea of talking, writing, or even thinking about anything beyond the surface is just too much sometimes.
But lately I have noticed a shifting. I find myself growing weary of the same conversations about our kids’ sleep habits and afterschool activities and whether they are reading chapter books yet or not. And something tells me that I might not be the only one either because more and more of my friends seem to be cautiously wading back into the deeper waters where we used to swim, bringing up heady topics like God and church, aging parents and marriage, forgiveness and what it means to really love someone.
Of course, our children are always in the mix. But lately, I find myself craving more conversations about the essence of parenting rather of the mechanics of parenting. As a mother, my children are a huge – enormous – part of my life and my role as mother is inextricably part of who I am. And yet, motherhood is but one lens through which I see the world; it is one fiber of my fabric. Granted, a very large part, but it isn’t the only part. The same is true of my friends.
As a writer, I am constantly trying to dive deep, swim below the surface and through the weeds to discover what treasures are hidden down below. But that is often a solo adventure, introspective navel gazing at times. And, of course, I talk to my husband about Big Questions and Dreamy Dreams, swimming together through the weeds to find our treasures. But with my friends, even the very closest ones? Well, the simple answer is not as much as I’d like.
There is so much so much truth and beauty that lies below the surface, in the essence of our daily lives, and in the words that we do not say. But we have to dive and dig and sift to find them. Another friend of mine – also a Sister-Friend – is battling breast cancer and many of our conversations focus on treatment schedules, test results, and surgical plans. The mechanics of it. We text nearly every day, several times a say. I miss you¸ I said last week. And I meant it. But they were surface words. The deep-sea words in the weeds are these: I miss my healthy, happy friend; I feel a cold blue loneliness when I think about the miles of rolling hills and rural countryside that separate us; I feel a red hot anger when I think about what Fucking Cancer is doing to you; I’m scared about what the miles and the cancer could do to our friendship if we don’t keep diving and swimming and fighting; I worry someone might take my place; I worry about you every day.
Surface talk has value, of course, and not every conversation should be a deep-sea dive; sometimes snorkeling is best. We could drown – or run out of oxygen – if we swim too deep too often. And some of our most contented joys lie in what shimmers on the surface. The surface is, after all, where the sunlight dances and the moon glows.
But if I have realized anything after spending the past month swimming – er, writing – down in the weeds with my Sister-Friend just how exhilarating deep sea diving can be with someone we trust, and just how beautiful it is below the surface. I have learned some friends will wade and splash with us in the shallow waters and hold our hand as we jump, together, into the weedy deep waters looking for treasures.
And maybe it is in that splashing and wading, jumping and diving together that we find the treasures we had been looking for all along.
Oh, Christie – how this touched me. I am envious of this amazing experience you had with your friend, but thankful that you are sharing your insights and thoughts now that the month is over.
I’m in the season of parenting teenagers, and I’m starting to dive a little deeper now that my heavy parenting days are more than half over. I’m hoping to take a few friends with me, like you did.
Thanks, Dana. It really has been an amazing experience.