Good writing, with a strong point and with life oozing out.

Friendship, From a Distance

April 21, 2008

As if in a dream, I saw an old friend rounding The Point the other day. On yet another walk, Marissa was 5 full miles from our old neighborhood in Rosslyn. Though it had been 3 years since we had spoken, she recognized me immediately, in spite of my shorter hair and beard.

A curiosity who became an acquaintance who became a friend, I first noticed her as she powered through epic daily walks no matter the weather. It was her pale stateliness combined with her peculiar attire that first caught my eye: she was always dressed with slight formality, with some kind of hat, and would always wear what looked like gardening gloves, even when her arms were bare. Though she appeared to be past middle age, she took big strides with her long legs, fairly floating over the path.

Over time, I would give her the subtle runner’s wave when I’d see her, and we began to smile and nod. Soon I began to occasionally slow to her fast walk and share some bits of conversation, since I surmised we were neighbors and I was enjoying our early morning camaraderie. In time, she flattered me by asking if I was training for the Olympics, and so I began greeting her more heartily and stopped to walk with her more frequently. She spoke with a deliberation that suggested a cultured upbringing, and rolled the ‘r’ in her name in the way that belied her Spanish heritage. Upon my questioning, she found a most gracious way of letting me know that she lived in that very large, very exclusive building at the end of our block– the one with all of the glass and the huge balconies overlooking the city. Ever after, I always imagined the doorman wishing her well, then waiting several hours for her to take another trip around the city, and shaking his head in wonder upon her return.

Since it had been so long since we’d spoken, I proudly introduced her to The Girlie. She gasped at the suddenly fussy child and gaped at me, remarking at her beauty and making an effortless comparison to Eleanor of Aquitaine, a French woman of rare beauty and fierce courage (“You have not heard of her? Oh, Michael, she rode on horseback to Jerusalem! She was a beautiful, powerful woman.”) We spoke of our shared love of Hains Point, and she compared it to her memories of Norway and Sweden, which we joked might explain my (genetic?) connection to the place.

Though I know none of her story, I have always sensed a kind of gravity about her. She strikes me as a person of weight and perseverance– yet one who is not weary of life– and so I felt very free to tell her about our other child, William, and to speak frankly of his challenges and the way that this place was a reference point for his struggles. I told her about his short life, and his strength. She winced at the pain, and yet held fast in hope as she redirected me toward my daughter and the life that we share. Such words might feel dismissive, except for my strong sense that she, too, has dealt with loss on a large scale, and has come through it with a greater strength and a stronger sense of hope than before. That she is acquainted with grief.

As she excused us, she insisted on hugging my sweaty self, in spite of my protests. And as I sent her on her way, I choked back a few tears, and wondered at the gift of friendship that can develop between two strangers.

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