It would be way too simplistic to say that Gayle and I were childhood sweethearts.
Accurate, maybe. But simplistic.
Those two words – “childhood sweethearts” – don’t begin to summarize the up and down, back and forth, on-again off-again nature of our relationship between second grade and senior year. One year we were playing kissing tag behind Valley View Elementary, the next year she was digging her fingernails into my forearm deep enough to make me bleed.
And, truth be told, cry.
Just a little.
She also made me cry right at the end of our seventh grade year, when she unceremoniously dumped me for Alan, an eighth grader who looked a little like David Cassidy of the Partridge Family. Evidently, someone who looked a little like Pugsley from the Addams Family wasn’t good enough for her anymore. Go figure.
In fairness, it should be noted that Gayle insists there were times that I made her cry, as well. I tell her that me stepping on her toes while dancing at our Senior Prom doesn’t count.
Which brings me to our final attempt at romance during our senior year of high school. We had a wonderful time at the Prom, but the attempt was short-lived. The whole idea of being serious and hugging and kissing and stuff was just too weird. By that time in our lives there was too much friendship between us for any of that.
So by mutual agreement – no tears involved – we gave up on being in love with each other, and settled comfortably into loving each other as dear and trusted friends. While our paths have only crossed occasionally through the years, each time there has always been that vivid and unmistakable warmth of friendship that exists between people who have shared much of life, love and an occasional game of kissing tag.
That’s why it hurt my heart a few months ago when I heard she is battling cancer.
“I’m doing as well as expected,” she told me last week after I wrote to ask how she was doing. “Chemo sucks. There is no way around that.”
But she considers herself to be “one of those very fortunate ones” because she is surrounded by supportive, loving, caring family and friends.
“I feel the prayers, well-wishes and good vibes coming my way,” she wrote. “It’s overwhelming and makes me cry.”
Let the record show that I resisted the temptation to say: “It’s about time!” I may be an old friend, but I’m not a tacky old friend.
As far as “lessons learned” are concerned, Gayle says that she tells folks “to just find the joy in feeling ‘normal.’”
“I suspect feeling ‘normal’ will never feel ordinary again,” she said.
That’s a powerful bit of wisdom for all of us, isn’t it? Too often the only time we notice something is when it isn’t functioning as it should or doing what it is supposed to do. We don’t get excited about the bus running precisely on schedule, but if it’s late we let everyone know. Nobody pays attention to the dutiful and honest public servant, or the faithful, diligent clergyman – it’s the scoundrel who makes the front page.
So in Gayle’s honor this week I’m going to give more respect to the normal, properly functioning elements of my life, and pay less attention to the stuff that isn’t. I’m going to celebrate sameness, commemorate the common and rejoice in the remarkably regular and routine.
And if that sounds simplistic, so be it.