I spent the last week with a very dear friend who lives in upstate New York. When we were discussing my visit, Steve asked me what our plans were. I answered, only half jokingly, that we planned to spend about 18 hours a day chatting, and that we would probably chat in a variety of places. ‘That’s not a plan!’ he said, ‘what will you actually be doing?’
Anthea and I have been friends for twenty years. We met when we and our husbands were posted to Cleveland for a couple of years (I know!). As well as both having babies and having been plucked out of our home environments, we discovered that we share all sorts of interests, views and values. Plus she has a wicked sense of humour. We Skype regularly and in recent years have tried to visit each other once a year.
So, I arrived on Monday afternoon and it turned out that various people had also been asking her what we were going to do during our week. It seemed that people were a little … bemused might be the best word, about our distinct lack of plans or apparent enthusiasm for doing very much. We spent one afternoon walking to a coffee shop, having coffee and walking back, another one trying on clothes and hats in a vintage shop and yet another pottering round little local shops and going to the library.
When we reflected on this, it seemed to us that people expected us to do all sorts of things: to visit the city, to go to exhibitions and a show and to shop. All of which would of course have been lovely, had we chosen to do them. And if those activities are a kind of tick-list by which a successful trip is judged, then it is true that we did indeed fail miserably.
However, we realised that we are in fact very good indeed at our visits, but not in terms of what we do. What we are brilliant at is giving each other and ourselves the gift of time. We luxuriate in hours and hours of time. Time spent listening to each others’ stories; time spent belly laughing (and sometimes crying); time spent hanging out watching films, trying on clothes, cooking, going for walks – just time being together. We have so much to talk about, in so much detail, that we never, ever, run out of things to say.
As mothers and as workers our lives are so busy, hectic and fast-paced, that allowing ourselves to stop ‘doing’ and instead just to ‘be’ together truly feels like a luxurious gift of rich and precious time. I am very lucky to have her for a friend.