To My First Friend

“It takes a long time to grow an old friend.” — John Leonard

During these troubled times we need our friends more than ever.  They lift us up when we’re down and pull us back when we’re falling over. As Woodrow Wilson once observed, “Friendship is the only cement that will ever hold the world together.”

Over the years I’ve been fortunate to find a number of great friends, and I grow increasingly grateful for their presence in my life. It recently dawned on me, though, that there is one who has been there longer than all the rest — my sister, Kathleen.

“One true friend adds more to our happiness than a thousand enemies add to our unhappiness.” — Marie Dubsky

Kathleen and I are “Irish twins,” born in 1948, she in January, I in December. We shared the same crib after I was born, and I imagine she must have been a constant presence in my young life, almost like the air I breathed.

Kathleen was the first person I ever spoke to, or ever played with. She showed me how to stand, sit down, and rattle my crib for attention. She taught me a thousand different things.

I was the kind of toddler who often wandered off. It was Kathy who would find me and bring me home. When I got scared Kathy would comfort me. It was she who protected me from all manner of boogeymen and childhood monsters.

When our dad died, it was Kathleen who stepped in to fill the void when Mom was at work, keeping the trains of her four siblings running on schedule. I can’t remember a holiday that Kathy didn’t singlehandedly manage. She provided the glue that kept our broken family together.

Kathleen was whip smart, a straight-A student, a voracious reader and formidable debater. In high school I would test my thinking against hers and often came up short. She was never afraid to challenge me, always pushing me to think deeper, to keep an open mind and to question my biases.

As we matured in the 1960’s we began to move in different directions. Kathy kept a laser-like focus on her life plan. After college:

  • law school
  • marriage to a terrific guy
  • career as an administrative law judge
  • mother of five beautiful children
  • two bouts with cancer
  • grandmother of 13

My own story is a little more complicated. After graduation I moved to the west side of Chicago and had my heart set on changing the world. My dreams were expansive and my ambitions large. For the next 15 years my time was spent in perpetual motion: raising money, traveling from one place to the next, never fully unpacking my suitcase. Along the way, alcoholism took hold, relationships ended, and I became increasingly lost from myself.

When I returned to Seattle I was confused, disoriented and dispirited. It was like I’d lived on a rocket ship for 15 years and all of a sudden landed on a planet with which I was wholly unfamiliar. I was newly sober, but I had no idea how to belong or be happy.

Once again, I was that kid in the crib in need of my sister. That need was met one Thanksgiving.

I arrived at Kathleen’s home for dinner feeling down and alone. I found a seat in the corner of her living room. She saw me sitting alone, came over, and asked in a gentle voice what was the matter. I whispered to her my angst-ridden litany of problems. When I finished she said, “Pat, life isn’t all that complicated. Life is what you make of it. Maybe if you quit demanding so much from life, you might find yourself enjoying the life you actually have.”

I was stunned by her observation. I understood her point immediately. I had complicated my life with an out-sized wish list. I’d failed to count my many blessings and was unhappy because of it.

“She is a friend of my mind. She gather me, man. The pieces I am, she gather them and give them back to me in all the right order. It’s good, you know, when you got a woman who is a friend of your mind.” — Toni Morrison, Beloved, 

Coming from Kathy, my first friend, I knew I could trust her wisdom. And indeed, over time, I learned to make space for the happiness that had so eluded me.

Just a thought…


Copyright © 2020 Patrick J. Moriarty. All Rights Reserved.

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