05 February 2009


Once in a while, you make friends who have the power to restore your faith in humanity. Once in the greatest of whiles, you make friends who can restore your faith in yourself.

I moved into a small town right before the weather changed one year, and it looked like I was in for a cold, lonely winter - away from my friends and my life in the city. Then a colleague from work casually invited me to dinner and a movie with her "chick flick" group. Thirsty for female companionship, I jumped at the chance.

I imaged there would be a light chatter about celebrities - the way my old friends and I had passed the time. But as we sat at the dinner table, one woman said, "Time for check-in!" Each woman then took a turn relating, with deep-felt emotion, what was going on in her life while the other six gave their full attention.

I was uncomfortable. This sharing among friends was more intimate than anything I'd experienced before. The waiter came to the table before it was time for my check-in, and I was secretly relieved.

The next time, and the next, and the next, I kept my mouth closed. When pressed, I would blurt out something simple: "I'm happy it's the weekend!" or "I'll be seeing my family for the holidays." I couldn't bring myself to tell all. Yet the 12 eyes portrayed no sense of disappointment, just the same focused attention they devoted to each other.

One night, I'd just come from an encounter at work that left me devastated, and my check-in came. Before I could stop myself, I told them of my worst fears- that I might not cut it and I'd be fired. I was searching to make sense of everything, but I was so torn and confused. Then as I talked, my fears, buried and knotted deep in my belly, broke up and lightened and started to float. I saw myself reflected back in their eyes: a just, honest soul. Someone who had a lot to be proud of. Someone worthy of respect and understanding. Someone worthy of friendship.

Since that day, I crave the check-ins like a cloudless blue sky in a dull gray winter. As I've learned, the power of loving friends who are willing to devote their entire attention to you is as healing as any force on Earth.

By Mariska van Aalst

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