"Please, mind the gap." If you've ever been to London and ridden the Tube (their subway), you've heard this, probably about 47 thousand times. It is a very polite, recorded message that plays at every stop reminding passengers to be careful as they step off the subway car onto the platform.
I heard, 'mind the gap' this past weekend. I was in London to meet my dearest friends for a much anticipated weekend-long celebration for all of us turning 40.
How do you define friendship? I guess that varies from person to person.
For some people (I think women especially) friendship is about companionship; daily phone calls, weekly lunches, an occasional girls’ night out. It is this communicative connection that glues the friends together.
Others friendships are defined by common interests. My husband has a work colleague with whom he has traveled all over the world. They have experienced a lot together; tried many different (and sometimes scary) foods in Asia, gone on Safari in Kenya, traveled across the snowy, Russian tundra on a rickety, old Soviet train. They never see each other outside of work, and are at different stages in life (my guy with four little kids and his friend having three grown children)-- but their travel and adventures have formed a solid friendship.
Then there are the ‘Old School’ friends. These are friends from college, or high school or childhood. Friends with whom you have a catalog of shared experiences. They know all about you. These friends know you inside and out-- warts and all.
They were there during the happiest moments of your life, like your wedding day or just after the birth of a child. They celebrated you, and were sincerely as excited and happy for you as you were for yourself. Old School friends are also there at the saddest times, maybe the death of a parent or the shock of a miscarriage. They are the ones who pick up the rag doll of a person you are at the moment, and coddle you back to life. They are the ones who not only sit with you as you cry, they cry, too.
These are the friends I met in London. My Old School friends.
The logistics of a trip like this were fairly complex. You can imagine: Four women, three whom have jobs that need to be covered, three whom have children who needed to be farmed out or watched (fingers crossed) by husbands-- it was a part time job organizing everything.
But it was imperative that we all put forth the effort to make it, to 'mind the gap' as the very polite English lady reminds us on the Tube. Of course, I was thinking in the more figurative. 'Mind the gap'-- take care of your friendships, don't let the gap between you all grow too great.
I haven’t seen these three friends in almost two years. We keep in close touch via email, and two of them get to see each other several times a year because they live within a few hours of one and other. But none of us see each other nearly as often as we would like.
As soon as we all arrived at the flat we rented in London, it was as if not a year had slipped by since our teens. Bodies may have changed, slight wrinkles may have formed, but inside we were all 18 again.
We met on Cape Cod where we all spent summers with our families. Each of us had the typical summer waitressing job, sometimes at the same restaurant (which would invariably increase the trouble we would get into that summer). We would sneak away early on slow days, meeting at the beach to catch a few hours of sun, before going home to have dinner with our parents then head back out to one of a myriad of parties at someone‘s house or on the beach.
One night each summer, we would grab our sleeping bags, pack up a cooler with hot dogs, marshmallows and lots of beer (once we were ‘of age‘), commandeer one of our parents’ boats and speed off across the ocean to a long, narrow strip of beach called North Beach. Populated only by sand pipers and horseshoe crabs there was no electricity or bathrooms, no other people for that matter-- and we were pleased as punch. We would build a campfire, cook our dinner on sticks, talk a lot, play truth or dare, drink most of the beers and then fall asleep under the stars.
These are my fondest memories of summer, maybe of all. These women are and forever will be, my soul sisters.
So, we met in London and celebrated each other and our friendship. We shared funny stories about our kids and hilarious stories about our husbands. We also talked about what has been challenging over the past few years, but didn’t dwell on that too much. We saw all the sights, shopped at Harrod’s, drank a couple of pints in a couple of pubs, ate some good pub grub and laughed a whole hell of a lot-- until our sides hurt.
I was the first to leave the group, the other three staying on one more day. As we were hugging goodbye, to my surprise I started to cry. We were standing at the Tower of London and the day was beautifully sunny, clear and cold. We had rejuvenated each other, filled up the friendship tank for a few more years. It was hard to peel away from that, not knowing when I would next see them.
In the meantime, if any one of those women needs me, I will hop on a plane and be by their side immediately, without question. And I know that they will do the same for me.
We will mind the gap.