She celebrated with me the birth of my children, their first steps and their childhood achievements. Our children navigated billy carts and grazed knees together. She came to their weddings.
We've weathered the unpredictability of life, her breast cancer and the breakup of her son’s marriage, the death of both my parents, the birth of our grandchildren and all the everyday stuff in between. Our friendship grew and grew.
After my parents died, I became her neighbour. We gardened together, sharing plants as we shared life. We swapped recipes, borrowed the odd cup of flour and laughed our way through our failures and mishaps. We explored and adventured, walked beaches, bush tracks and country lanes with our mutual love of nature and passion for life.
We made a garden path between two open doors.
Her loving care reminds me of the story Jesus told when asked, “Who is my neighbour?”
When my first attack of vertigo hit and the room spun wildly with vomit inducing velocity she was there holding the sick bowl. She rushed me to the doctor when I broke my ankle climbing cliffs and didn’t chide me for my foolishness, as others did. She didn't cross to the other side when the tough things happened.
We’ve been a witness to each other’s lives, to the good, the bad and the mundane. There’s no pretence, we see each other at our best and worse, bad hair days, messy house days and weepy sad days. There’s very little of life we haven’t shared.
Maybe the Hebrew word, oheb, says it best, “one who loves”. Friendship is love in action; it’s not a noun but a verb. It’s letting go of self for the good of another, letting what’s important to you become important to me. Making time and space in my life for you. It’s not wide and shallow but deep and time consuming and messy and more precious than gold.
I'm convinced that friendship is one of the most beautiful experiences of life, to be known heart and soul and accepted as we are. But knowing can't be hurried. It takes time, commitment and perseverance; getting alongside someone and staying for the long haul. It requires me to be vulnerable, non judgemental and open to truth and that's hard, but it allows "steel to sharpen steel".
For me, friendship is one of the greatest gifts we can give another human being and as Isabella said in Jane Austin’s Northanger Abbey, “There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves, it is not my nature.”
I was right all those years ago; she has been a kindred spirit. She still has a creative flair, a passion for gardening and an enthusiasm for life, and while the years have whittled away the physical strength and brought limitations that she’d rather be without, the conversations continue and the years haven’t lessened her wonderful sense of humour, and the laughter is loud and life-giving over the cups of tea across the kitchen table of our lives.