I drove up to Seattle today to go to the baby shower of a very dear childhood friend. I like to drive alone, just as I like to go to concerts alone, or sit at a classy bar and drink alone. It's like listening to music on your iPod (or, as I recall, your Walkman). What a pleasure to surrender yourself to the experience! It's something that isn't often done with others. On the other hand, I get a positive high off of the energy of connection. People fascinate me, and when there's chemistry, when there's badinage or earnest mutual empathy, it fills my cup. Once, as gushed about a new friend I'd made, my husband said, "You're always making new best friends." And he right. I'm lucky, and I'm good at making friends, but I find friendships challenging to sustain. I become overwhelmed, reculsive, and lazy. As a result, I spend a good deal of time dwelling on relationships past. Sometimes, I wonder if that's unhealthy, or just pathetic.
There are, however, friendships that have survived the drought, and the shower I attended today was for one such friend. It was small and lovely. We talked about birth and pregnancy, and childhood memories; new houses, Olympia and Port Townsend. I answered some questions about Jane's birth. My friend delighted in her gifts. I was so pleased she liked the flannel nursing pads I made her. Making my way home, I called up a singular memory from our friendship, from my life. Briana's mother had a garden where, in my memory, it is always twilight. Briana's mother has given us two large dahlias, the kind referred to as dinner plate," and we have put them in our hair, as big as hats. Briana's mother has allowed us to take every single candle from the house and arrange them in the limbs of a tree and among the flowers. Magic. Musing over this forever memory, I thought how special it was to celebrate with her today. We fell out of touch for ten years, and when I saw her at her wedding last spring, we knew each other. Sometimes, you get lucky in friendship. After all, I thought, friendship is not just about longevity.
I pondered this at 70 miles per hour, breaking free from the city traffic, headed south. I turned the volume up on the radio. I've been relishing the pop music I listen to on the way to and from work. It's not music I listen to at home, and I listen to it at a volume that is probably damaging. It's something I love to do alone. Only a sunbreak, my sunglasses and a warm wind streaming in the window could have increased my pleasure in that moment. And then I saw a bird, a big, beautiful redtail hawk soaring and dipping between the cars. "Wow! Watch out!" I hollered. "Watch out! watch out!" It soared up. It dropped, veered, and turned straight into windshield of my car. It hit so hard it sounded like a shot had gone off. I looked in my rearview mirror. One wing extended, one crushed against it side, the redtail floated in a perfect arc and smashed head-first into the shoulder.
Redtail hawks are very common. But it doesn't matter to me what sort of value is ascribed to an animal when I see it destroyed. I might feel more awe finding a bald eagle dead in my yard than a dead mouse, but no greater pity. I'm soft. I cried. I turned off the radio and kept driving. I didn't want to cause an accident, and the hawk was dead. What had it been doing? Hunting? Why was it flying so close to the cars? Was it already injured? I struggled to find a way to feel okay about it.
And then, I remembered a friend.
When I was working in Cambridge, I met a wonderful man at a party in our office. I was interested in him instantly because he looked different from everyone else. He was dressed all in tweed, including his vest and bow tie. It was July. He had very short hair, round glasses, and intense eyes, and we hit it off right away. In moments we discovered a mutual passion--detective fiction. As we became friends, I learned he was a Zen Buddhist monk. I leant him Poirot DVDs when he was sick. He leant me Jeremy Brett's Holmes DVDs in return (I still have them). We talked books. We talked yoga, and spirituality. We talked about relationships. We talked about weaknesses and emotions. He was a good listener. He was tea and sympathy. He bought an iPhone and when he showed it to me he said seriously, "It is very sexy," nodding. I liked that. He was so many interesting, unusual things. Sometimes people like that are easy to label or define. He wasn't. He was just Matthew, and I enjoyed his friendship.
One magical moment with him, I remember particularly. We are walking from our office building chat. It is a dark, cloudy day. As we step into the crosswalk, we see a single, mangled bird wing, close to the curb. He stops talking and brings one hand swiftly to his chest, like half a prayer (a mudra? a spontaneous gesture?), and I see that with his whole being, he is honoring the life of the bird that lost its wing. We hardly stopped walking, but everything has changed.
The memory flashed in my mind as I drove, and everything changed, all over again. It was the power of the singular memory; it was the power of my memory to resurrect a friendship in my heart. It changed everything.
What more can I say about that? It was a moment of deep understanding. I have seen a use, a value, for my private, treasured memories that is beyond my original understanding. They're mine, to nurture, inspire, soothe, and instruct me, forever.