Thankful Tuesday: Friends
Thankful Tuesdays help me consciously keep gratitude a part of my life, and I am loving the series. I find that, every Tuesday morning, I get up expecting something positive to happen. I’ve re-discovered that I have a lot, actually, to be thankful for. I have a lot of things in my life that not very many people have. And this Thankful Tuesday falls on a particularly special and memorable day. Eleven years ago today 9/11 happened. That one sentence really says it all. With that one sentence, we remember where we were, what we were doing. We remember the disbelief and the fear that assailed us all. But I, for one, also remember something else. It was one of the first times in my whole life that I felt truly united with the people of my country….. from Alaska to L.A to New York, that one day and that one period, we were all connected. And, just as this country has always done in times of intense crisis, we stopped worrying about differences and simply treated one another tenderly. We were gentle with one another. We exercised manners when we thought we’d forgotten how. Suddenly, it didn’t matter what your political affiliations were; all that mattered was that you were an American, like me.
I could write forever on the reasons why I love this country. But, actually, what gave me the most hope today wasn’t the thought of 9/11 itself: it was the realization that, even when I don’t think I do, I do have friends. I’m not an island. Today, of all days possible, I spent time talking to an old friend. I smiled, I laughed, and I was happy. Yesterday, we went to my aunt and uncle’s. Unfortunately, familial fault lines created a deep division between my family, and it’s been a very long time since I truly felt like any of them even wanted us around anymore. My aunt and uncle are the exception to that. They’ve stood up for us, they’ve listened and they’ve believed. And, too, they remember. They talk about me and my sister when we were little. They remember I was a child once, and my sister was too. They’ve been not only family, but friends too.
My deepest fear in life is being forgotten. That’s the fear that motivates me to write because the words will live longer than me. But, today on Thankful Tuesday, I was reminded of those who have been my friends, of those whom I have loved and cherished. I think of Mama O, my great-grandmother who died when I was six. I am 31 years old now and yet I still remember her. I still remember the smell of her house and how she’d let me play with her cane and sit with her in her garden. I still remember her outhouse, and how she’d write me letters. She’s been dead 26 years, but I haven’t forgotten: I still remember. I think of the cousins my sister and I grew up with. I don’t know them anymore, but I haven’t forgotten them either: I still love them, think of them and wish them well. I think of the first school friend I ever had, in the third grade, with whom I felt very close. She was the first person to whom I told my father lived with us…. when he wasn’t in jail. I haven’t seen her, or been close to her, since the third grade. But I still remember. Friends who shared high school with me…. I first created a Facebook page because of them, because I wanted to connect with some of them in ways I hadn’t been able to in school. 12 years after graduation, I still remember the friends, and teachers, who made McGavock the incredibly special place it was to me. I still remember the first time I felt truly wanted and special. Time has passed, but I still remember the immense deposits of beauty made in my life. What I’m most thankful for this Thankful Tuesday is the realization that friends aren’t really fleeting. Friends etch out their names, and their memories, on our hearts. They change a tiny piece of our world in ways that we never forget.
My deepest, darkest fear is that I’m not remarkable enough to remember. But, really, the thing is, I don’t know what my words or actions do to the people around whom I am surrounded. But, no matter how alienated I might feel, the truth is, I am just human. As such, my behaviors and words affect those I am around. And I have to believe that I was important to someone, that I have mattered to friends along the way. And maybe even strangers. You see, I remember 9/11. I remember standing in line with a hundred other people, waiting to give blood. There was a woman behind me I talked with. We didn’t know each other. We’d never met. But we cried together, and we hugged each other. I don’t know her name, but I remember her. Friends do that for one another. Little things happen…. a certain day comes along that used to be significant, and our hearts stop a little as sweet or bittersweet memories flood our thoughts and hearts; we run into an old friend we haven’t seen in ages and suddenly remember details of a friendship that’s been far removed from us for years; reunions come up and we go even though we haven’t seen any of our classmates in a dozen years because we remember the ones that shared milestones with us. I have never been really good at making friends, because I’ve never been really good at letting others see past the smile. I don’t like things getting too personal, because I’m afraid that when they do, the ugliness I fear lies on the inside of me will show, and they’ll leave. I’d rather be alone than be left. Because I used to think that if I wasn’t an active part of someone’s life, then I didn’t matter. If someone I went to school with showed up on my doorstep today, I’d still call her a friend, 12 years later. I guess what I’m trying to say is that once you and I form a rapport, come what may, you’re name has been written somewhere on my heart and I’ll remember it even years later when I need to. I’ll remember the ones that were nice to me. Once, my freshman in college, I went to chapel and there was a girl there that used to move herself and her friends down a row so that I didn’t have to sit by myself. Her name was Melody. We never spoke outside of chapel, but she was nice to me, and I remember her even today. In high school, a boy I thought was rather amazing asked me to help him with his English papers and sat with me in the library and listened to my advice. Then, in class, when I gave him my only pencil because he couldn’t find his own and then got reprimanded by the substitute teacher for not working, he stood up for me and said: “Tiffini’s probably the sweetest girl I know, she just gave me her only pencil, leave her alone.” We never spoke outside of class but, when I went to Paris, I bought him back an Eiffel Tower because I thought of him as my friend. I remember him today.
Friends help each other. They hug each other. They talk to each other. They e-mail. They chat. And sometimes you only see them once in a blue moon but, still, they matter. I’m grateful to live among other Americans, who know how to comfort each other, and defend each other, when it really matters. I’m grateful for memories, because memories are the tools of hope. We find strength through the friendships we have. We find courage. We find peace. We find love and acceptance. We find hope. On 9/11, we felt united. We were all scared of our country being unfairly attacked, and we wanted to save every life in New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia, whether we knew who they were or not. We wanted to protect them because they were our fellow Americans and, as such, they were part of us. On a smaller, but equally important, scale, we feel connected and united to the people who come into our lives. We hold them in our memories, and we remember the legacies they left upon our individual lives.
So, today, I want to say thank you to anyone whose life has ever touched mine. Whether we were close friends or mere acquaintances, you influenced some part of my world and, therefore, of my heart. Thank you to anyone who has ever written me an encouraging email, or spent time chatting or talking to me. Thank you to those precious people who have hugged or held me, thereby depositing untold amounts of beauty and light into my world. Thank you to those of you who don’t give up on me, who think I’m worth the effort. Thank you to the girl in high school who saw me sitting alone and came to invite me to sit with her group of friends. Thank you to Melody. Thank you to Joey. Thank you to anyone I may not have been able to convey with words my appreciation. Thank you to those of you who read this blog, and anything else I write. Thank you to my mother and sister, who have never wavered in their devotion to and support of me. Thank you to my aunt and uncle, who continue to try and include me in their lives. Thank you to my pastor, and the other leaders of my church, who have acted like fathers and friends to me. Thank you to my girls who make me feel needed, and loved, every day. Thank you to the strangers I’ve met and who have shaped my life with random and unnecessary acts of kindness. Thank you to the president, present and future. Even if I disagree with you on foreign and domestic policies, I know you sacrifice a lot personally to try and keep this wonderful land safe, prosperous and free: thank you. And to everyone who calls this land home—-thank you for rising and taking off your caps to sing “The Star Spangled Banner” with me at ball games. Thank you for understanding the significance of all our landmarks, like the White House and the Statue of Liberty. Thank you for saying ‘y’all’ and ‘bless your heart’ and for loving Elvis Presley and the Beatles. Thank you for knowing that idyllic summers include catching lightnin bugs in mason jars, eating hamburgers, hot dogs while listening to Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” and setting off firecrackers on the fourth of July. Thank you for knowing that September 11 will always be important and remembered.
Memories remind us of not only of pain, but also of all the personal beauty we’ve been witnessed to. Memories remind us that no one is ever really forgotten, not even those of us who feel shamed and alone. Friends help us connect our lives to someone else’s; they help us feel understood, normal, needed, accepted, wanted and remembered. We make a difference in this life, we leave a legacy, not only through our children and our family, but also through the lives of our friends. And for that, I am thankful