In May, I wrote a post called “our gang,” which turned out to be one of the most read, shared and discussed posts in my more than four years of blogging. This Thursday having been Thanksgiving, I got to hang with “our gang” again; and it prompted some cool new thoughts.
I often say (and, in fact, mentioned in the original post in May) that holidays with “our gang” are as close to walking into a Norman Rockwell painting as anyone could hope to get. Traditions run deep with us. The Thanksgiving meal has included the same items made the same way, for the twenty-two years I’ve been part of the celebration; but those recipes actually go back a century or more, not merely decades.
Since my addition to the mix in 1994, I’ve taken on two very important traditions at holiday meals: rubbing garlic on the toast (two pieces) and tearing it by hand to make the croutons for the salad; and lighting the many candles as the last of the afternoon light fades.
(Side Note: The right lighting is very important in life.)
(Side Note to the Side Note: My mouth literally just watered at the thought of having a turkey sandwich made with mashed potatoes and that gravy, on one of Holly’s rolls!)
But mood lighting, special traditions and phenomenal food made from recipes handed down through generations are not the main reasons for the enveloping feeling of having walked through the looking glass. No, it’s the people. And as I thought about it throughout the day Thursday and continuing through to today, I caught a glimpse of something that really shouldn’t have surprised me, but surprise me it did all the same. It occurred to me that the magic really comes down to one thing: choice.
Today, I want to share with you just a few of the choices that our gang makes consistently with regard to one another – choices that have resulted in the best darned friendships someone could ever hope to have:
We choose to be emotionally expressive.
I was the first to arrive yesterday. Before I’d even reached the gate, out through the screen door and springing down the porch steps came Holly, dressed in her apron, clearly having left her toils in the kitchen. “You’re heeeeere!” she squealed with delight, arms over her head and fingers spread ecstatically, like a toddler clamoring to be picked up when daddy gets home from work.
As each guest pulls in on such occasions, similar cheers erupt, as if the guest of honor had just arrived. Kisses and hugs and delighted gasps and ecstatic squeals abound. And we don’t just “hug.” We rock-hug. We dance-hug. We wiggle-hug. We squeeze-hug and say, “Mm – mm – mm – mm – MMM!” tightening our grip each time. And every bit of it is genuine.
Now, you may be saying, “I’m just not that kind of touchy-feely person” or “I wasn’t raised that way” or “That would just make me uncomfortable.” I’m not discounting that any or all of those things may be true about you at this moment. For the record, I wasn’t raised that way, either. In fact, one of my early blog posts, “hypothesis,” recounts the first time I declared to my own mother that she was going to be hugged and hug me back, even if that wasn’t how either of us was raised – and the transformation that’s happened in her since. (I highly recommend reading it if you identify as someone who is very uncomfortable with physical expressions of love and friendship.)
In “our gang,” you really can’t tell who was “raised that way” and who wasn’t for the most part. I suspect that Richie Rich (Richard, Holly’s husband) was not raised that way. But you know what? He has taken the risk and gotten over it to a large degree. And Richard beams when people arrive, and hugs and gets hugged, just like the rest of us. And when he walks around a corner and sees you there, he looks you in the eye and he smiles and squeezes your arm or your shoulder, and he says, “I’m glad you’re here.”
Just because you’re not comfortable with something right now doesn’t mean you can’t become comfortable with it – and enjoy the wonderful rewards of taking that risk. You’re not somehow excluded.
You always have a choice.
We choose to speak what we feel.
Richie Rich isn’t alone in expressing “I’m glad you’re here.” Here’s just a small sampling of other things that people said to one another in our gang yesterday:
“I’m so happy to see you.”
“I really enjoy talking to you.”
“I love your take on things.”
“This meal is perfect.”
At first read-through, none of these words may sound all that miraculous. But stop and imagine yourself actually saying them to specific people in your life. Does the image of you speaking those words out loud to people seem natural – or squirmy and weird?
For some people, spoken expression is even more uncomfortable than physical expression. But putting words to how you feel changes things in a relationship. Rather than laboring over what to write in a card twice a year (or maybe leaving it to Hallmark to say it for you), with practice, it really can become part of the natural flow of your relationships. And if you lead without expectation of return, you’ll be surprised how many others in your life you might inspire to take a few risks themselves.
We choose to create meaningful moments.
As I said, I was the first to arrive yesterday. Holly ran out to greet me (Richie Rich was not yet back from visiting his own mom), and soon Bud and Dib arrived, bearing, among other things, a tote of drinks.
Dib asked if I’d set into opening a few bottles, among them a bottle of champagne. Now, I’m admittedly no aficionado when it comes to such things, not being a drinker myself; but Holly dashed to the rescue, towel in hand, wrapping it expertly around the top of the bottle while explaining the right way to do such a thing: “Always turn the bottle, not the cork.”
Moments later, as I was pondering how smart I’d look and sound at the next soirée I might attend, Bud appeared with four glasses and Dib went to work pouring equal amounts of the “bubbly” into each. Instinctively, we all raised our glasses – just the four of us huddled in close. Bud smiled and simply said, “Cheers,” which was followed by contented sighs, knowing eye contact between all possible pairs, clinking all around and the first sip of the day together, as we all grinned like kids who’d really gotten away with something clever.
The reason for the toast? Nothing specific, really. It was just a moment that was seized between four friends, because we could, in that way, at that exact time.
And another memory was made.
We could have just stayed in motion. Busy. Opening this. Moving that from the counter to the table. Pouring. Mixing. But our little gang is always on the lookout for moments of pause – moments that can be maximized and turned into memories.
A toast and round of applause for the blushing cook.
A sing-along to ukulele and harmonica accompaniment.
Words spoken to remember in specific ways friends and family who have passed, and the ways in which they each remain a part of the present.
All around us, there are potential memories-in-the-making, just waiting to be woven into the fabric of our friendships. It is our choice to be open to them, to seek them out, to bring them into being.
We choose to notice and appreciate the small stuff.
Everyone somehow winds up feeling like a million bucks when we all get together. And again, this comes down to a choice – the choice to be others-focused instead of just me-focused.
“Look at you! You look fantastic! Hubba hubba!”
“Can you imagine being as gorgeous as she is! Stunning!”
“You’re vibrato when you sing is really cool and unique.”
“I love that you put the extra effort into details like these little glass bowls filled with raw cranberries, or aligning the flatware at that angle.”
If you were to ask us, every article of clothing everyone else is wearing is “just the right one,” and “who could’ve imagined having worn anything but that?” The way our hair falls is always “perfect” and we are somehow always looking “the best we’ve ever looked.”
It’s not idle flattery or some form of mutual ego stroking. It’s all very sincere and natural. We really do feel that way about one another! Maybe you’ll say it’s rose-colored glasses, but who cares even if it is? I’ll take ’em! And the cumulative effect of those little “notices” and compliments can keep a body buoyed for a week or more afterward.
And just by the way, these things are not reserved for arrival time. While they might be said then, they’re as likely to be dished out an hour or three later. You just never know when.
The supply of kindness is unlimited. And who wouldn’t want to be part of helping the other important people in our lives feel extraordinary?
We choose to keep love the most important thing.
I just came back from a bathroom break while writing here. On one of my bathroom shelves is a simple scallop shell, sealed shut with a note tied to it that says, “You are loved.” It was a Christmas gift last year from Michael and Larissa, and, in its simplicity, it sums up the core of why our friendships work.
I mentioned in the first “our gang” post a very rare thing: that our group of friends has just never had an argument between members. There has never been unkindness or gossip or resentment. And it’s not because we are all clones. We’ve just made the conscious choice to love each other first and foremost. Along with that decision comes believing the best at all times. And along with that decision comes an endless flow of support, no matter what.
Even things like political or religious views are never a source of debate or ridicule, but only of learning more about how someone else thinks. It just would never even occur to any of us to choose arguing or “being right” over the joy and comfort of loving one another and being loved in return. That doesn’t mean that we don’t challenge each other to think new thoughts or reach for more in life; but that happens indirectly out of “yes, and …” or “have you ever considered …?” type discussions with people we love and respect.