“Don’t Dry Those Hands”

My best friend has been stricken with a catastrophic disease. She has lost so much: her soulmate, her career, her memory. She is slowly losing her life. It’s a tragedy beyond anything I could ever imagine for her and her devoted family.

I woke up today tearfully thinking about her. I had a recollection of when we were young and the world was our oyster. We lived together after college, in our own tightly knit world replete with insider stories and jokes. She had a cute expression that she used whenever I would wash the dishes. She would say, “Don’t dry those hands.”

It was when I was almost finished washing; she’d bring a few stragglers to the sink, perhaps some cups she had left in her bedroom. She’d smile impishly as I was about to finish and say her trademark phrase: “Don’t Dry Those Hands.” It was an inside joke that she would never remember now; but I remember this for her, this and more; that’s what loved ones do for each other. We hold onto each other’s memories, like a firm embrace; we cling tightly to each other’s secrets, ones that we will take with us to the graves. Happy memories, sad ones, all of the images culled from a long life, now etched into our mind’s eye.

Before my best friend lost her memory completely, I would send her cards. The cards would show two women together and say things like: Best Friends Forever. Now each year on her birthday, I send her a card, although her adult daughter receives it. They still say: Best Friends Forever. My friend’s daughter needs to know; she needs to know that her mother isn’t forgotten and that some things endure forever.

* *

One thing about best friends is that they accept you the way you are. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t arguments or occasional cross words. But on a basic level, you feel seen and heard and accepted. The friendship reminds you that even though you have a multitude of flaws, you are worthy of love. That type of acceptance is so precious and so rare.

I didn’t find that type of acceptance much in my family, me being so different from everyone else. But toward the end of my parents’ lives, we all came to appreciate and respect each other more. My mother thanked me for helping to organize her health care. I wrote my parents a detailed letter expressing appreciation for the many things they did for me throughout my life. The letter must have meant a lot. Even though my parents were not sentimental and kept very few keepsakes, I found the letter in their belongings after they passed away.

They loved me, I loved them. We did the best we could. In the end, that is all that matters. In the end, love is all that remains.

* *

During this last year, there have been so many twists and turns in my spiritual life that have taken my breath away. I’ve been going to a church where I have felt God’s Presence like never before. But, as with my family, it’s a place where I don’t quite fit in. The parishioners are more reserved, while I am gregarious. As much as I’ve tried, it’s been hard to find women to connect with.

And yet God knows what we need better than we do. Instead of sending women my age to befriend, I’ve become pals with a couple of young males. They have sat with me at church; they have listened to me for hours and supported and guided me when I’ve been spiritually confused.

They are fine young men, obviously well-raised; they love and respect their mothers and it shows. The kindnesses of these two males have changed my life. They bring a fresh and clear-eyed view of things, one not yet obscured or tarnished by the wreckage of age.

Maybe the best thing about them is that they accept me as I am. They accept my big personality and don’t try to make me smaller. That type of acceptance is a lot like what my best friend did for me, so precious and so rare.

* *

Strangely enough, a newcomer showed up at church last Sunday, someone who reminded me a lot of me a few years ago, at the beginning of my faith journey. The woman was nervous, overwhelmed. She hungered for something, though she didn’t know what it was.

Gregarious too, she found her way to me and I took her under my wing. I sat with her at Mass, introduced her to people, and offered encouragement and support. She was so grateful; but I was even more grateful for the privilege to be used by God in this way. I pray to offer her the same type of kindness and acceptance that I’ve received from my young male friends at church and from my best friend.

None of us can rest on our laurels; we are all connected in ways that we can never fully understand. It doesn’t matter our life circumstances. “Don’t Dry Those Hands.”

* *

It’s the season of Lent, my second year observing it. Last year, it was all so exciting: getting my ash for Ash Wednesday, giving something up, which I’d never done before in any concerted way. I loved trying to reform some of my bad habits; I was successful in one of them, that is, stopping using obscenities.

This year, I have to admit, my Lent has gotten off to a pretty rotten start. I cursed at a driver who drove too closely to me when I was walking in a crosswalk. I’ve been catty in several conversations. I’ve been generally cranky and complain-y.

After praying about it last night, it occurred to me that I’ve been walking around hard hearted, angry about the state of the world and particularly life in Berkeley. I told God that I didn’t want to be this way, and I asked Him for help. As always, He is faithful.

That’s when I woke up tearfully thinking of my beloved friend; and I saw that underneath the anger that I have, that maybe we all have, is a deep and profound sadness about the human condition: our finiteness, our vulnerability, and a hidden-from-sight awareness that everything around us will someday die, us included.

And then I realized one of the messages of Lent; that even though none of us is worthy, God is always there for us, with us, always by our side. That He will never leave us or forsake us, even when everything else turns to dust.

And this: our lives are valuable; my best friend’s life, though severely impaired, is valuable. She reminds me of the paramount importance of love and friendship. And her situation makes me want to shout from the rooftops: right now, at this very moment, work out your relationship with God. Love Him, need Him, don’t turn your back on Him. Now, before it is too late.

Let your loved ones know that you care; and make contact with someone you’ve been out of touch with for a while. Look around your small corner of the world and offer a smile or an encouraging word to someone who needs it.

We are all in this mysterious thing we call “life” together. “Don’t Dry Those Hands.” You are needed in this world in countless ways. But don’t delay. Like the ashes of Ash Wednesday remind us, we are all living on borrowed time.

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