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my friend

We met by chance on a VIA Train heading from Ottawa to Toronto. We were both getting off at stops before Toronto so we ended up on the same car. As luck would have it there was an empty seat beside me and she politely asked if it was taken. It wasn’t, and invited her to sit down. We did that thing where we looked at each other, trying to place where we knew the face. We went to the same university, were in the same program, had a couple of classes together. We exchanged pleasantries and settled in for our long trip.

It could have ended there. It could have been but a single moment in our lives, quickly lived and then just as quickly forgotten. Instead, for some reason, unknown at the time, it turned out to be not an ending, but a beginning.

That was, if I can do the math correctly, just over 16 years ago, in October 1996. So much of our lives have been lived since then and, because of that chance meeting, so much of it has been lived side by side.

She is my friend.

Today is her birthday.

It amazes me how some friendships start, like an ember burst from nothing, and continue to burn, seemingly without end. I don’t know what brought us together that day, on that train, but some larger force knew that I needed her in my life, then and now.

She is, without a doubt, the best person I know. She is the kind of person who you can call in the middle of the night, no matter how late, no matter if she just went to bed half an hour before and has to get up two hours later. She will answer your call, convince you that no, you didn’t wake her up and yes, of course she has some time to talk. She will listen to your problems. She will probably even ask if she should come over. Do you need a hug? Can I bring you a cup of tea. She is that person. If there is a bed and a couch, she will insist that you take the bed and make it seem utterly absurd that you would even consider the alternative.

I don’t think I could ever be that person. I think mean things about people and I’m not very good at hiding them. I’m moody and sarcastic and if I don’t like you, you probably already know it. However, the mere fact that she sees fit to be my friend makes me feel like maybe there’s hope for me.

I don’t know a single person in the world who has met my friend and doesn’t love her, almost instantly. She is the kind of person who greets you with a hug and tells you that you look great. And she means it; she really does. And because she says it in such an honest way, she makes you believe it too, even if you’re dressed in sweats with your hair in a ponytail and wearing no makeup. She thinks you look great, and you believe her, because she would never lie to you.

She is the most trusting person I know. Her openness and willingness to throw herself out there have always amazed me. She has written a novel; and has actually let people read it. She has run a marathon. She has weathered storms in her life and continues to get back out there, continues to try, continues to find the best in people and, in turn, they seem to give it to her. She is the kind of person you don’t want to disappoint.

She has amazing taste in books and desserts. She is always accessorized to perfection, is a wonderful cook and is the most patient and loving mother I have ever seen. She is perfect in her imperfections. She never makes me feel like there’s anything wrong with me (which, at times, there definitely is) and she never acts like she is a better person than me (which, as outlined above, she usually is). She is funny and witty and makes it all seem easy, although I know it’s not. She has struggles and difficulties and problems just like everyone else and she is not afraid to share them, to admit she doesn’t always know the answers and that makes her real, and human, and accessible.

She is a better friend than I probably deserve, and I consider her a gift. A gift from someone out there who knew that I need her in my life; that I need her there as an example of how to treat people, how to find kindness and joy in life and how to be a better person. She allows me to be her friend, and not just in name, she lets me earn it. She asks me for help and listens when I offer it. Some friendships travel through time without tests, without work, without earning their keep. Our friendship expects more from us. It expects phone calls, cups of tea, glasses of wine and legs folded on couches. We have talked through the problems of the world together and made them better for no other reason than because it confirmed that we are not alone.

We are a long way from being those two girls, forced together by a chance meeting on that train. We both now have husbands and kids, responsibilities and jobs, houses and to-do lists that are way longer than we can ever actually tackle in one lifetime. We have said many goodbyes since then, to relatives and loves, and also to dreams and expectations of what we thought our lives would be like.

But we are still friends. We have seen each other through a lot in the past 16 years and I have leaned on our friendship more times than I can count. And each time I have needed it, it has been there. No matter how much time has past, no matter how much it has been neglected due to busy schedules and conflicting calendars; it has remained. Willing and able to jump up when it is needed, to provide the support and strength that is lacking and then to settle back, a constant.

I don’t know what I have done to deserve a friend like her but I appreciate and never take for granted all that she has brought to my life. And today, on her birthday, I struggle to know what to give her to show her all that she means. It’s not something that can be wrapped in a box and tied up with a ribbon, although she deserves that and so much more.

And so instead I give these words, in the hopes that today of all days she will read them and realize she is special, and loved and thought of, not just today but every day of our friendship.

Happy birthday my dear friend. I don’t know what I would do without you.

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When I look at you, I see my baby.  I see the person who made me a mother.  I see my past and my future, all rolled up in one little person.  I see hopes and dreams and wishes come true.  I see everything.  When I look at you I see beauty.

But slowly I’m beginning to realize that maybe you don’t see the same things.

You are so young and yet I see the look that sometimes crosses your face when you look in the mirror.  I know that look because it’s the look I always used to see when I looked a myself.  It is a look full of questions; full of judgements.  A look that confirms that the reality of what you see is not what you hoped.  And it makes me sad. It’s too soon, I think to myself.  You’re too young to think these thoughts and have these doubts.  You should still be running around, carefree, careless, confident in your own skin.

We are lucky enough to live in a place in the world where your future is endless, stretching out in front of you without pre-conceived boundaries set because you are girl.  You can go to the moon, you can be Prime Minister, you can find a cure for cancer or paint the most beautiful picture in the world; you can do all of that and more, whatever you set your heart to.  But I fear that although you can (and will) accomplish so much, you may still never be happy with the reflection you see in the mirror.

I remember being a young girl, wishing that I could change, critiquing every inch of myself, hoping I was different.  Wanting to look like the girl in the magazine, or the girl on tv, or the girl on the other side of the room.  Wanting to be anyone but who I was.  What I didn’t realize then is that each of those girls was also wishing for something else.  Wishing for someone else’s hair, someone else’s nose, someone else’s thighs.  Because that’s what we do, and more than anything, I wish I knew the words to tell you so you won’t spend your youth wishing for what you do not have.

Of all the things I want to teach you, that is the one I hope for the most; and yet it seems to remain out of my grasp.  I don’t know the words to say because I’m only just learning them myself.  I’m finally learning to appreciate and yes, even cherish, all the flaws that look back at me every morning.  All of the lines, the bumps, the scars, the lumps.  They are all a part of me, a part of my story, a part of what has made me who I am.

But it has taken me 35 years to get there.

I wish I could teach you all that I have learned so you can skip over the decades of self-doubt that lay ahead of you.  I wish I could just wrap you up in my arms and carry you as we skip over age 12, when your arms and legs will seem too big for your body, age 14 when so much of what is going on you won’t be able to understand, skip over braces, bad skin, bangs, clothes that never seem to fit properly.

But I know I can’t do that.  I know that without experiencing all of the bad, you will not be able to appreciate all of the good.  And I know you will make it through, I know you are strong enough and confident enough to make it through.  I’m really more worried about me; I’m not sure that I can live through you living through it.

I hope, for both of our sakes, that your path is short, and that I can be there to help you over the tallest bumps, to pull you out from the deepest holes.  I hope I can somehow find the words that will make it easier for you.  That some day when I say “you’re beautiful” that you will understand what I mean and that you will understand where the words come from; that I’m not just saying them because I’m you’re mother.

One day you will see what I see.

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