For younger readers, this is Joe Btfsplk, Al Capp's little carrier of doom and gloom, an inhabitant of Li'l Abner's town of Dogpatch. I see him at the periphery of my vision whenever I feel the degree of dismay I was expressing some nine days ago. Fortunately, he doesn't visit me very often, and fortunately, he has returned home.
What's changed? Not much out there in the world, sad to say. In fact, there's been more stories of terrorist attacks, more non-sense, continued murder and mayhem, vile and bile, even in this short period. What has changed, however, are my mood and morale in spite of it all - thanks to some help from my friends.
Friends take many forms and I've been blessed to be visited by a few this past week. There are the old friends, one that I've cherished for over 40 years and another for almost 30. The old and tried relationships that have been there through divorce and illness, the passing of parents, the challenges with children. The friends with whom I can pick up a conversation after a gap of months, even years, and it's as comfortable and comforting as though we just had a slumber party. The friends who remind me that I have overcome obstacles and crisis and am stronger and more resilient than I may think I am. The friends who called just to check in and who listen through filters of shared history and memories and values.
There are the new friends, friends who seem to enjoy and value who I am today, wrinkles and warts and all. One who, by sending a book with a slightly sacrilegious and wholly hilarious inscription , brought a belly laugh in spite of my mood. One who shared a morning with bright and eager eighth grade girls, reminding us both that opportunities are so much better for them than they were for us at their age...progress! Or another, who listening to my litany of dismay reminded me to return to what I know works for me - turn off the news, watch something pleasant and uplifting, read a good book, look and listen for the positive, focus on what I can control, remember to be grateful.
And the three I cherish most - my husband who accepts me just as I am, cheerful, anxious, upset, remote, frustrated, angry - room for it all, without a shred of judgment or criticism. My 'baby' sister who has become close friend and trusted confidante over gaps of distance and age and circumstances, and my brother who knows better than anyone alive today why I am so committed to being optimistic, especially when it is challenging to do so. Each was there this week. Each listened and each cared.
I'd like to think I have long appreciated the importance of friendship, been grateful for the men and women I am blessed to call friends, but this week has added a new depth of understanding. Friends, old and new may never be as important as in these last years of our lives, when the impersonal insecurities of a changing, tense and frightening world intersect with our personal physical and emotional challenges.
So, I have declared a recess from the news. I have been watching musicals and reruns of The Golden Girls and Murder She Wrote. I'm reading a good book, focusing on what I can control - and being grateful for good friends.