Between Friends

posted April 17, 2012

Lilacs about to burst, three weeks before they usually do.

My friend Andrea Raphael died on Good Friday. My writing mentor and teacher Anna Kirwan died on Easter Sunday. Two dear friends got diagnosed with cancer last week. My husband Tom turned 50. And our new CD The Full Catastrophe came out. It’s a liminal time, the Mayan apocolypse notwithstanding, and once again all signs point to salvation resting in being awake to the here and now. I wrestle with this every moment of the day. A strange, firm undertow constantly drags me into my thoughts, my thoughts, my clammoring thoughts. My fears about the future, my curiosity about everyone in the world which sends me to Hell (AKA Google) over and over again. I wish I could say that these many wake up calls–the deaths, the diagnoses, the birthday parties, the one movie we managed to see (over a period of 2 days), the imminent work of promoting an album–had worked to wake me up fully. In a way they have; perhaps we can only be as awake as we can be in any given time. Today, I am sobered, but still sleepy.

The movie we saw was The Tree of Life, an amazing film my Terrence Malik about life, death, the big bang, heaven, and a beautiful, doomed, brave, typical, unique family in the 50’s in Waco TX. All of this made me think that this week’s Song of the Week should be “Between Friends.”

I wrote this song during February Album Writing Month 2009, right before I took a self-imposed leave from my life coaching practice in order to spend more time with my family. I blogged about this period of my life from March 2009-May 2009. I was then trying to be as present as I could be to the miracles of my two children, then aged 2, and 6 months. The fact that I blogged every day no matter what speaks to a certain terror around the idea of taking a real rest. But I tried, and I do still feel really great about that period of time. I still find art projects around the house that we made together in that particular window. This song came from that experience.

Andrea’s funeral was today. The Log Cabin was completely packed, SRO. I am terrible at ball-parking numbers, but it felt like a thousand of her friends and family gathered. The service lasted two hours, and we needed all two of those hours to hear from loved ones, and still I wanted more. She was such a dynamic, real, funny, passionate, optimistic, loving, brilliant person (read her obituary to learn more). I have known her since we were teenagers; our parents are friends. She was three years older than I, and when we ran into each other in the mid 90s when I was in the midst of my music career, she took my phone number and proceeded to invite me to her dinners, events, parties and friendship circles; taking care, I thought, of her old family friend. Like me, she lived life fully. Unlike me, she seemed to have time to breathe. I at times, forget how, or at least that is what I can tell myself.

It has been said that the perfect is the enemy of the good. I don’t know about that, but I can say for sure that perfection is my own personal enemy. After seeing The Tree of Life, I was left with this searing fear that I was wasting my time doing anything other than following my two children wherever they go, soaking up their every comment, their every gorgeously long eyelash, their every chuckle and screech. I won’t tell you why so as not to act as a spoiler, but suffice it to say, life is brief, and the events of the past couple of weeks have hammered home to me that we don’t get to know just how brief. This is a familiar fear of mine: I am missing it! I am going to be like the Dad in The Cat’s In the Cradle, that old Harry Chapin song. Woe is me! Attend, earthling, attend!

Andrea suffered greatly from Lyme Disease, and one of the other things that’s been on my mind much is climate change. Lyme Disease, which has also robbed much from my beloved aunt (who’s had the disease for at least 22 years), is a direct result of changing climates, changing eco-systems and the rise of creepy horrible illnesses that leave doctors so baffled that some of them prefer to tell their patients that their symptoms must be all in their heads rather than admit they are stumped.

We don’t know how much time we have. We don’t know how present we get to be for the time we have either. And we don’t ever really know another person’s struggles. I should know by now never to judge my insides against someone else’s outsides. (And Harry Chapin died before his kid grew up.)

“Go and live your lives fully,” said the minister at the end of the service today. “Andrea wants us to do no less.” And we did so, pouring out into the mountain top overlooking the valley where so many of us live and breathe every day. But we lingered, grabbing the hula hoops Andrea’s family had placed out there in her honor and trying to make them fly around our middle-aged middles. We held each other warmly, wept and shared kleenex packs, marveled at how the kids are growing.

“Rest,” Andrea’s mother told me when I found her to say good-bye. “Andrea would have wanted you to rest and not work so hard.”

And somewhere in the middle of these two heavenly directives, I live every single day. One of the gifts Andrea left me, a gift she seems to whisper to me as I go about my everyday tasks– chopping the carrots, ordering the kids’ summer pajamas, calling a friend–is the knowledge that we’re all at any given time doing the best we can. And at any given time, our best might look radically different. One day my best might be crossing every last item off my to do list, even the one that says, “publish novel as e-book” and “set up non-profit in Holyoke,” and another day it might be taking the compost jar to the pile in the backyard. Or maybe my best might just be managing one smile for my husband. But what freedom it would be to trust that. What freedom it would be to believe our friends are trusting that about us–our deep insides as well as our carefully managed appearances. I am breathing. I am living fully. I am resting. I have given much, and I have received much more. Thank you.

I have a friend who says
The earth cannot afford us
We have to grow up and not expect her to support us
We could give her something back.

I have a friend who has
A view of the Hudson River
He works all week just to enjoy his little sliver of view
Sometimes he forgets to look

Everybody’s banking on a world that never ends
Can’t you see I’m always working hard to make amends…
What’s a little trouble between friends?

I have a friend who’s scared her man is going to leave her
She’s reading books in bed like she’s got some kind of fever
To cure their marriage woes
He reaches for her and she gives him the cold shoulder
In just a minute she will think to let him hold her
But the minute comes and goes.

Everybody’s banking on a world that never ends
Can’t you see I’m always working hard to make amends

What’s a little trouble between friends?

I have a friend who has a job that doesn‘t pay her
She hates the paycheck but she loves the way it saves her
To do it her own way
She has a field of time to play with her son and daughter
She chops her firewood and they help her carry water
They live all day.

Everybody’s banking on a world that never ends
Can’t you see I’m always working hard to make amends

What’s a little trouble between friends?

Nerissa Nields
March 14, 2009

The Comments

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  1. All around me these days, I see reminders about how life is short and how we have to live each moment fully. I don’t do that very well which is why I apparently need the frequent reminders. Thank you for adding your story to that. I am working on the learning and the enacting.

    Be well, and do rest. You’ll have more power for everything else afterwards 🙂

  2. I had the joy of listening to the song while I read this blog post. I think I may have held my breath the entire time. Perhaps my favorite aspect of your music and writing is how they speak straight to my heart. Please take care of your gifts!


  3. “But what freedom it would be to trust that. What freedom it would be to believe our friends are trusting that about us–our deep insides as well as our carefully managed appearances”

    this is so beautiful…and so true…I think we are all more seen (and more accepted) than we realize.

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