We hugged each other close before holding each other at arm’s length. I looked into her eyes and grinned. Then we talked, continuing the conversation where we left it the last we were together at her CA home in 2015.
I first met Pat in the American Brahman Bookstore in 1970. Vic and I had just returned to Ithaca to roost, have a family, and finish Vic’s Ph.D. Pat was a blond twenty-year-old with a radiant smile and trusting eyes. I was twenty-five and seven months pregnant.
With my first baby in my womb, I felt whole and holy. I saw a similar feminine energy in Pat. Her first daughter was born the following year.
As part of a community, we went to philosophy classes and meditated together. We raised kids, canned peaches, grew vegetables, picked cherries, and baked birthday cakes. In 1979, we met the Dalai Lama on his first visit to the United States.
In the 1980’s, Pat’s world unraveled. She and her husband moved from their land a few miles from me and eventually left for California.
Here’s where the wounds come in. I didn’t give Pat the support she needed. She felt abandoned by me. Rightly so. I felt abandoned, too.
She needed me to put my arms around her and help her hold her struggles, but something in me froze. I stepped back from a brewing conflict and confusing loyalties. My retreat would have ended most friendships.
After Pat moved to California, I tried to let my love for her go. The longing wouldn’t budge.
I saw Pat when we attended teachings with the Dalai Lama or she visited Ithaca, but that wasn’t enough. We had inner work to do. Hard work that meant facing my shadow and my failure.
Nearly twenty years ago, Vic and I visited Pat in California.
Should I trust her? she must have wondered.
Will she forgive me? I wondered.
Pat is honest and willing to talk things through. We slowly unearthed our wounds, disappointments, shame, every detail of what went wrong.
I learned big lessons from failing a friend and working it through. I learned to hold my own pain and help others hold theirs. I won’t step back again.
During Pat’s stay last week, we revisited old wounds. We unpacked and aired the hardest moments to make sure there was nothing more to do. We quickly settled into gratitude. We’d made it through to a relationship strengthened by scar tissue.
An old deep friendship is a gift to be cherished and protected. I’m fortunate I have a few of these. I consider myself a good friend, but with Pat, I took a short-term path of avoidance. It was hard to forgive myself, but soul friends find a way to drop defenses and fear of rejection. We own the rough spots, admit our failings, and rebuild. We turn toward each other when life gets messy and learn to trust again.
In a 45-year friendship, just as in my 40 years of marriage, there are disappointments, places where we fall short. Pat and I remembered those dark moments. Then, in the way we can when we do deep inner work together, we relaxed into the arms of trusted love.
“Open hearts can do wonders,” Pat said.
Do you have deep old friendships? Have you ever failed a friend who counted on you? Did the experience teach you lessons about consciousness and compassion? My experience reminds me of a book I keep on my bedside table: Fail Fail Again Fail Better by Pema Chodron who helps me forgive myself and learn from my failures rather than beating myself up or walking away. For a blog about friendship and creating ritual together, see Ritual at the Crossroads.