Early in July, my girlfriend sent me an email to say that she wanted to spend her late-in-July birthday with me. She said her son would be in summer camp, so she was free to spend the day talking about and doing stuff that a 7-year-old boy would find hopelessly boring. She said doing "boring" stuff with me would feed her soul.
I had two reactions. The first was, "Yay!" The second was, "But it's a Friday. I have so much work to do."
I'm not proud of that second reaction. I spend a lot of my time writing about fearless love, wild creativity, and the importance of nurturing the relationships that feed us. You would think when my closest friend says I feed her soul, I'd shove the to-do list aside, get out my maps and crayons, and chart us a birthday adventure her 7-year-old would be proud of. But I didn't. What I did was begin a reply that asked if we could maybe celebrate her birthday on a weekend, or go out to dinner one night. Halfway through my response, my heart and my right brain staged an internal coup, and I stopped. I deleted everything I'd written and wrote this: "I'm in!"
Then I rearranged my calendar like someone who has her fearless loving priorities straight.
We all know that our friends are good for us. They are our cheerleaders and our shoulders to cry on. They're our confidants and our champions. Studies show having friends enhances our feelings of wellbeing, reduces stress, and even helps us live longer. A study of nurses with breast cancer showed that friends had a more significant positive effect on health than family and spouses.
Of course, I know the value of my friends, and this one in particular. She has been in my life through more thick and thin than any other. And yet, the physical distance between our houses, the daily responsibilities of work and children and managing a life... all of it gets in the way. I forget, and it isn't until finally we mesh our calendars and manage a rendezvous, and I'm sitting across from her at a table or side by side on a beach, that I remember how precious our relationship is. In those moments, I feel friendship like a high.
My friend was excited. She needed this break. "We'll have just a few hours," she replied in email. She suggested an itinerary: First, we'd meet at the summer camp, then drive 45 minutes to pick strawberries at a coastal family farm she loves. After that, we'd check out the cute little blink-and-you'll-miss-it town of Davenport, Calif., then onward to some nearby organic farms, where we would take pictures of how we wished the farming industry really worked. After that, lunch and beach combing.
I remember thinking that sounded like kind of a lot to fit in, but her enthusiasm was contagious, and it was her birthday. It seemed plausible to me that the earth might slow its rotation just for her.
We met at the appointed time. I watched her little boy do yoga with the other kids before we hopped into her car and drove to a nearby Starbucks for coffee. I told the barista that it was my friend's birthday and he gave her a pastry as big as my head. We drove out to the coast, talking the whole way about our kids and our husbands and our endless to-do lists. It's much more fun to talk about to-do lists when you're, in fact, brazenly not to-doing.
We arrived at the strawberry farm and unloaded our containers, and I marveled like a tourist at the pacific coast in plain, gorgeous view. We walked down adjacent rows of strawberries, squatting, picking, walking, squatting, picking walking. As we progressed slowly, our conversation did that thing that conversations often do when they happen between people who love each other. It burrowed down deep into the stuff that makes us who we are -- our values, our beliefs, our fears, our hopes.
We hadn't been at it for even half an hour when we sat down cross-legged on the ground, she in her row and me in mine, a two foot mound of strawberry plants between us. It wasn't a conscious decision, but we were talking, and laughing, and sharing things we hadn't known we'd been waiting for this moment to share. We didn't move for more than two hours, but we covered a whole lot of soulful ground.
When we noticed the time, we stood and hurried back to the little store, me picking lesser strawberries as I went (having already cleared the row of anything even remotely close to ripe). We never made it to the little town or the organic farms or the beach. We didn't fit in lunch. We made it back just in time to pick up her son.
I hit traffic on the way home, which made my one-hour drive much longer, but it was okay. I wasn't stressed. I didn't worry about the time. I'd chucked the schedule and the to-do list to sit in a strawberry field with my best friend for 2.5 hours... and it wasn't even a Saturday.
Studies show that kind of behavior is going to make me live longer. And happier.
For more by Judy Clement Wall, click here.
For more on GPS for the Soul, click here.