Last weekend, I spent four days in Michigan with a group of women friends. This might seem a little braggy, but I have a hellacious bunch of women friends. I’m fortunate in so many ways, but I am born under a lucky star charmed in the friends department. Over the next few months, I plan to write a bit about friendships between women because as I near 50–I’m four short months away–I have never been more aware of the absolute necessity of good women friends.
Let me tell you about this particular group of friends. There are seven of us although only five made it on the Michigan trip. I like to think of us as a writing women’s collective. We met in graduate school and fell in love with each others’ voices first and then with each other. We are a wordy lot. We write group emails and group texts. We share essays and novels in progress and short stories and blogs. And we talk and talk and talk.
We get together a couple of times a year. In Michigan we continued our tradition of walking, talking, eating, drinking, writing and reading. We hiked the Sleeping Bear Dunes of Lake Michigan and took long walks along the shore of Crystal Lake and the Betsie River. We enjoyed burgers smeared with bacon cherry marmalade and swooned over parmesan crusted toasted cheese sandwiches. We waded into Lake Michigan even though the water was so cold goosebumps pricked up all over my body. We completed a 1000 piece book puzzle in 48 hours and then whined (this was maybe only me) that the puzzle was finished.
We stayed up late drinking wine and roasting marshmallows. We made s’mores with dark chocolate covered caramels with sea salt. OH MY GODDESS, they were decadent. We talked politics for ten minutes at a time. This was not because we disagree on the big issues, but rather because we felt a ten minute bitch session about Donald Trump, his policies, and his incomprehensible rise to the top of the Republican ticket was more than enough when the air was ripe with birdsong.
We’d stop talking for a minute, take in the white bark of the Birch trees and the caw caw of two crows high up in the branches, poke at the fire, swat at a mosquito and then begin talking again.
Because there is so much to talk about.
I could use this paragraph to list the variety and complexity of the overwhelming problems we face today, but I seem to do that a lot, and each time I make a list (global warming, poverty, the lack of equitable education, the continued objectification of women in church and in society at large as well as the dominance of rape culture) I am desensitized to the possibility of change and the questions we must ask ourselves. After all, if I can sum it up in a few words and sandwich them between other words and use some pretty bullet points or em dashes, then perhaps the anxiety that wells up in my gut and threatens to sit me on my ass for the next 24 hours can be avoided.
The truth is it’s pretty damned hard to live with and in the questions.
Questions, however, might be a good place to begin.
Like I mentioned, we talked our mouths off this weekend. We talked about the environment because we were surrounded by a beautiful one. We talked about young black men being shot because there is barely a weekend that goes by when another tragic shooting isn’t in the news. We talked about clowns running around in small towns because it’s kind of funny and supremely weird. We talked about cultural appropriation in literature and in life. We talked about books. We always talk about books.
But mostly we talked about being women, about menopause, and oppression, about vaginas–one of us is irritated by the wholesale use of the term vagina to describe the vulva or the clitoris or the labia–and boobs and rib fat and the glory of inhabiting instead of being at war with our bodies.
We talked about religion/church/spirituality because we all believe that God is love and that divine love resides both in these bodies we are learning to inhabit and in the body of the world. One of us was a hospital chaplain, one of us a theology student, one of us a former Catholic, one of us a doubtful and often reluctant but still-practicing Catholic (that’s me), one of us a joy-filled agnostic, and all of us seekers.
Let me tell you about my good friend, Lori. She’s smart. And she’s funny as hell. She is a storyteller and speaks with brazen honesty. Her strong voice is both tender and tough as nails with just enough twang to let you know she has spent the bulk of her adult life in Texas. Lori is long on love and short on bullshit. She’s got the truth in her sites and she doesn’t pull any punches to get there.
A few years ago, she and her very lucky son (because she is his very smart mother) were having a conversation about religion and church and Chick-Fil-A. Some of his friends’ families were patronizing Chick-Fil-A in the guise of a certain sort of Christian support for the corporation’s anti-LGBT stance.
Lori told her son that religion, that church should make you kinder. She offered him a hard-earned question she had asked herself when leaving her own faith years ago, “Does it make you kinder?”
We all stopped talking when Lori offered it to us. “Church or religion. It should make you kinder, right?” she said.
Yep, it should.
You see, I’ve been thinking about questions all year, allowing myself to settle into uncertainty, but damn this one’s got an answer. I’m sure that there will be times when “Does it make you kinder?” won’t be the only question I need, but for now I think it’s a pretty good place to begin.