I didn’t turn 45 so much as I became it. How all the hours and days and weeks and months were just this series of moments that informed who I could be, or not be, if I was willing to listen. When I was very little, I had enormous ears and I would press them up against the walls between us because I was so afraid if I missed even a word of what you were saying, I might lose you. Sometimes I did not listen for years at a time. You saw me then, broken down on the side of the road, pretending I was changing the tire when I’d really blown the entire engine. You always stopped and offered help. Sometimes I would just wave you by as if I had it all figured out because I thought that was something I was eventually supposed to do. Have it all figured out. When I got older and you did too, and it became more important for me to be there with you while you were growing also, than to worry about who I was becoming, and especially what I looked like doing it, I noticed the walls between us just sort of disappeared and I didn’t have to press my ears up against anything anymore because I could hear you. You were saying, “I love you” and “you belong to me” and I wept because those were the magic words you had always said and I had spent so many hours and days and weeks and months trying to earn my way into a life I already had.
Every year one of you baked me a cake because you knew I just loved it so much. Cake made me happy. Then for years I would not eat cake because I thought if I just kept eating cake forever and ever, I would no longer be able to fit into the door of your heart and then you would not love me. It was so silly but instead of shaming me, you designed a plate of berries to look like an exquisite torte and you put a candle in the middle and you sang. For me.
When my heart was broken, so many times, because I didn’t know how to choose a lover like I had chosen my friends, you asked me to describe what it felt like to be in love with longing. You said I was perfect the way I was and you believed in my own perfect heart in all its varying degrees of ache. When I finally fell, like a feral cat hanging by her claws on a limb that was about to snap, into the arms of a love that confused me, because it didn’t hurt, you helped hold the weight of my trepidation up to the light, because you knew I was a little afraid of burning. And nothing bad happened.
I always thought you were so easy to love because you were magical and kind and funny and smart. Some of you I have loved since I first learned to string words together into sentences. And I have been doing that since the day I learned how to say your name. Others I have known for only one or two or ten or twenty or thirty years and you’ve all shown me that friendship is not a linear, chronologically-driven item that either is or isn’t; rather, it’s a timeless verb and an unbound experience and I can friend with you anytime, and all the time, and we do not even have to be together to do it.
People say “you cannot choose your family but you can choose your friends.” I choose both everyday and my family people have been some of the kindest, funniest, safest, most warm experiences of friending I have ever had. Similarly, my friend people have been some of the most loyal, protective, generous, supportive family I will ever know. And all of this made me think today, having become 45, how much of who I am is because of who you are and I feel like crying because who you are, my friends, are everything that is good and kind and loving and worth it about being alive.
And then there’s this one other little thing that is hard to say. But, because I think you are so magical and funny and kind and good and I am so in awe of how you carry yourself, with all your joy and sorrow and courage and fear in the world; how you cry and laugh and grow and stretch and pick yourselves up each day one more time than you fall, I realize that I must be some kind of greatness also, to be called by you, a friend.
You are my living, breathing, ever-expanding experience of Good. You are my heart. You are my kindness, my worry-doll, my hope. You lift me into being. You teach me how to love and pray and dance and cry and kick and scream and laugh and grow. May I become, every year, more worthy of what you have made me.