In MayBelle’s early years, friendship looked like chasing fireflies in her grandmother’s backyard in Oxford, Mississippi, with Anne, whose grandmother lived across the street. During high school, it looked like going out on the houseboat with Ashley’s family on the Ross Barnett Reservoir. In her Millsaps College days, it looked like a number of things, including dreaming big dreams with Lauri in “the bowl” and listening to great music with Karen wherever they could. In middle age, MayBelle’s friendships look like low-fat lunches, trips to the beach, and long, catch-up phone calls. Last week, though, friendship looked like this tray.
MayBelle, who is living some 350 miles away from her husband, Precious, for a temporary teaching gig, became ill and had to call for help. MayBelle was in pain, and scared. And alone. So MayBelle called a new friend, a precious young woman she’s known about three months, who took her to the emergency room even though it was late at night. Sat with her through the repetitive questions and the needles (also repetitive, as multiple “sticks” were required). Said “yes, of course,” when MayBelle looked over at her in a panic when the nurse asked for a local emergency contact. Knew just when to rub MayBelle’s back and speak soothing words and when to leave MayBelle be. Thought to ask the nurse for socks, which MayBelle was grateful for, having forgotten to put any on. (MayBelle also didn’t have on any makeup; please don’t tell Martha. But she did run a comb through her hair before leaving for the ER.) After three hours of medicine and lab results and monitoring, the friend took MayBelle to her own home, where she gave MayBelle hot tea and an extra blanket. Made sure she was comfortable. The next morning the friend brought this tray to MayBelle to see if she could eat anything. It might not look like much to you, but to MayBelle it was a love offering. With gratitude—and while trying not to apologize too much for having bothered her friend—MayBelle took, and she ate, and she gave thanks.
Word has come that two friends of MayBelle’s have died: a male college classmate, just 51; and a 92-year-old woman named Jeanne. She hadn’t seen the man in years, but remembers him fondly. They kissed once after a fraternity party. He was graduated with honors and then went on to become a doctor. The woman she knew several years back when they attended the same church, and MayBelle came to love the woman, who was a fine example of what it means to live with faith and gratitude.
MayBelle is shocked by the news about her college friend, cognizant that time is scooting by with seemingly increased vigor now that she is in her fifties. And she is grateful that she hears of Jeanne’s death in time to make it to her funeral, which turns out to be a celebration of life indeed.
Lately there have been other reminders of what it means to age: a nephew turning thirty and getting married; her mother’s health in rapid decline; MayBelle’s List of Dreams still calling out to her. Sometimes it is almost too much for MayBelle. But one thing growing old has taught her—and there are many such lessons—is to reach out for help when she needs it. She has learned, over and over again, that going it alone is not all it’s cracked up to be, and most of the time no one’s paying attention to how independent you think you are anyway.
So she calls a friend, and they tell stories from their college days, remembering their classmate with kindness. And MayBelle feels better, at least for now.
Tomorrow she’ll write the man’s parents a note, telling them she is glad to have known their son and that she is sorry for their loss. She’ll make a donation to charity in Jeanne’s memory. She will check on her mother. And MayBelle will meet her trainer at the gym for their hour-long workout, in the hopes she can develop the strength–and the abs–to get one more dream accomplished.
Although MayBelle has never been what you would describe as a gal who gets around, if you know what she means, she usually has a handful of cool men in her life.
It all started with her father, Big Earl, a man who managed to make all three of his daughters think she was the favorite. Then there was David Cottonfield, her first-grade crush; what’s his name in high school (really, MayBelle’s memory is going); that handsome and mysterious co-worker in Knoxville, whose name MayBelle remembers full well but does not care to divulge; and, finally, Precious, whom MayBelle met in her early twenties but only married when she was six weeks shy of her forty-first birthday.
Today, though, MayBelle feels especially blessed by the presence of one young James Tennyson, shown here decked out for Halloween as “Cowboy James.” Adorable, I know.
Here is what James can’t do: move much on his own; hear well; see clearly without glasses; feed himself; tell his sisters which book to read to him next; say to his mother, “I love you.” It sounds like a lot, but it pales in comparison to what this precious boy can do: invite a stranger to smile; hang out on the couch while you kiss his head; provide proof of wonder in the world; stretch your heart to make room for a little more joy; cultivate compassion; and remind a middle-age goober like MayBelle what’s important in life.
What matters to you?