by Dorothy Greco
Most of my rituals are practiced in solitude: morning prayer, daily exercise, flossing. My two communal rituals involve food: our family’s evening dinner and the ninety-five meals I’ve shared with the same three women over the past twenty-two years. While I’m hopeful that our family dinner is not simply about replenishing calories, I’m certain those ninety-five meals are about something more.
Kimberly, Margaret, Beth, and I all attended a small church in downtown Boston during the mid eighties. We had such similar backgrounds, temperaments, and faith journeys that friendship was inevitable. They were the obvious choice for bridesmaids and not long after they proceeded me down the aisle, we decided to make the relationship more intentional by connecting for dinner once a quarter. At the time, I had no idea how this soon-to-be ritual would teach me the meaning of friendship.
When we gathered around the table in the now defunct Chinese restaurant, I was pregnant with our eldest son—the one who got married last summer. No wrinkles defined our faces and no gray hairs poked defiantly upwards. Our bodies were trim (with the exception of my swollen midsection) and powerful.
That first night, we picked spicy noodles and greasy rice off each other’s plates as we shared our doubts, fears, and triumphs. Though surely no one was listening, we huddled around the table, dropping our voices, apparently concerned about what others would think if they overheard our stories.
During those early dinners, I was somewhat guarded. Like everyone else who has lived a few decades, I experienced my share of betrayals and disappointments.
In response, I hardened and created a facade that concealed both my wounds and my limitations. This ruse spared me further pain but the energy that should have gone into maturing and loving others was diverted to propping up my false self.
By saying yes to this quarterly gathering, I was unwittingly choosing to dismantle that facade. I was opting for vulnerability over safety. This has not always been an intuitive choice, particularly during the past few years when my husband and I have experienced profound losses—including parents, jobs, and our church community. Though it might seem that a season of hemorrhaging would increase my desire to break bread with friends, a palpable resistance crept in.
Fear propelled that resistance. I feared that they would fail to notice the blood or unwittingly say something hurtful and in my fragile state, that I would respond uncharitably. For though our twenty-two years together have blessed me immeasurably, we’re all imperfect. Sometimes we say too much, too sharply and hurt each other. Yet despite our jagged edges, none of us have ever canceled. Ever.
We’re now either grey—or concealing our grey. Our once firm bodies bear witness to the battles we’ve faced in our half-century of living. We’ve stood shoulder to shoulder as we’ve changed jobs, battled cancer, bought and sold houses, lost our parents, and struggled to make sense of an often overwhelming world. We’ve also laughed until we cried, spoken profound words of affirmation, and prayed passionately for each other.
Since that first night, we’ve eaten well and poorly. We’ve picnicked, discovered Okdol Bibimbap, and lingered far too long in crowded, urban coffee shops. The truth is, our relational hunger exceeds our need for calories making the food mostly inconsequential. What matters far more than whether we eat Indian or Korean is that we keep saying yes to each other.
Ninety-five times we’ve dismissed the legitimate reasons we could claim we’re too busy and instead, set aside the requisite four hours. We’ve done this not because we’re particularly admirable women (though I hope that’s true). We continue to meet because we need each other and because we’re slowly learning that this friendship—perhaps all friendship—is a gift that should never be taken for granted. After twenty-two years, we understand that being a good friend isn’t so much about being perfect as forgiving each other when we’re not—that friendship isn’t so much about overlooking each other’s limitations as it is acknowledging them—and choosing to love anyway.