Friends. How lightly we throw that word around, like a threadbare old tennis ball that can land anywhere for all we care. Let the dog play fetch with it. Let the baby drool all over it. Leave it out in the garden, come rain or shine or mud or sleet or snow. Or, put it in a box and stick into the attic to gather dust for the next decade or so. Friends. Old tennis balls. What does it matter.
But it should. It should matter. It should matter- the very word itself should roll off our tongues with the care you take to handle a fine china teacup, rimmed in gold. A hand painted fine china tea cup, wrapped in tissue paper and the most beautiful of boxes and ribbons. Brought out for the most exclusive of gatherings, where there is light and laughter, and the scent of spring, and rows and rows of flowers. Friends. Fine china teacups with the most delicate of brews, stirred and sugared just right- that is how that word should taste.
Have you ever felt like a box? With boxes inside of boxes inside? With shadowy corners and cobwebs and layers of dust, with words held tightly, with stories that have never seen the light of day? Maybe each box you dive into is bigger than the one before. Maybe there is an entire circus waiting for the music. Maybe there are new worlds to be discovered. Maybe there are skeletons and ghosts and fairies, just waiting inside the next box and you are huddled up so far away- so very far away- a little frightened, a little unsure, wanting desperately to lift that lid but- but- I don’t know. I don’t know why I don’t open it. I don’t know how many I might have opened already or how many more there are to go, but I am just sitting and looking and suddenly feeling so small and so afraid, and pretending to laugh and smile, pretending I don’t want to look.
And then there are soft hands that pull you up and lead you forward, smiling faces and smiling eyes, and smiling hair and smiling shadows and, dear god, walking talking living breathing smiles that usher you to that lid. And as you watch with your breath held in, they lift it up in one big moment of heroism, laughing happily because they want to. They want to look inside and smile smile smile at everything that trips out- frantic little mice and cats and dogs and an elephant in a hat. A little helicopter. The spirit of a tree. A family of demons. A snickering scarecrow. Books and books and journals and musty smelling old newspapers. Music. A baseball bat, and then a snarling wolf that we had to use the baseball bat on. Eons went by and the things just wouldn’t stop pouring out and never for one second did those smiles dim or falter. And when we were quite, quite, quite sure there was no more, they climbed inside and swept out the corners and killed the spiders until everything was sparkly clean and ready and waiting until you were ready to lift the next lid. And then they climbed out and smiled some more and you thought the sun would shine forever and there would never be a single cloud in your sky. They were smiles to keep you warm and smiles to stitch you back together and smiles to give you wings so you could soar like the angel you were always meant to be.
Friends? Old tennis balls? Fine china teacups? Maybe I had it all wrong. Maybe friends were really notes from the harp of some goddess- some whimsical, half-crazy goddess who dropped them in your bowl by some strange, wonderful magic nobody ever heard of. And, as you breathed them in, you hoped and tried and tried with all your heart that one day, she would play your notes on her harpstrings. And you would burst into endless, blinding, smiling golden music and rain all over the world.