© copyright Kathy Pippig
More than two decades ago, Paula came to work in the task area where we shared an office.
She had been given the position I had been vying for. It didn't seem at all fair. I labored to make her feel uncomfortable and unwanted.
But because of her indomitable spirit she kept pressing onward with her positive attitude, generous smile, and infectious friendliness.
But I was not easily won over. I was miserable and worked overtime to counter her goodness.
Deep down I had to admit there wasn't much about her to not like. She was Pollyanna and I was "The Bad Seed."
Shame and guilt eventually made me feel loathsome. Perhaps she saw through my bristly facade. I truly hope at the time there was some essence of good that glinted from my soul's innards. I'm guessing there was and she coaxed that spider silk thread out with her charm and began to weave the web of our friendship.
Understandably, a friendship is a two-way mechanism. A relationship functions best when both individuals proffer the finest qualities from their heart and soul. I had a lot of catching up to do and, consistent with my nature, I extended myself wholeheartedly.
Her friendship was a shining gem that sparkled brightly before my eyes. What she offered was beyond description or value. The bond that two beings can cement which lasts a lifetime... Friendship!
The saying, "Hey, whatchya doin'?" became a part of our bitter, joyous, disheartening, thrilling, ecstatic, crushing, and wondrous happenings that living life brings.
Those were the words I stammered the night I drove over to her house and apologized for how I had treated her when we first met, admitting I had been cruel.
I should have gone to her earlier in our relationship and apologized. She never spoke of my treatment of her in those first days. She never told me that my actions had hurt her.
But when I asked her to forgive me she began to cry and all the pain I had been responsible for was etched on her face. She merely nodded.
Then smiled at me.
We hugged and cried together.
I heard those words from her during the rough days when her marriage was falling apart and she needed to talk. When there was a suicide in the family she spoke that phrase through the tear-choked pain of loss.
Though we no longer work in the same area, we still work for the same organization. No matter where the job assignment, stress is part and parcel of the job. And many times we've phoned the other with the question, "Hey, whatchya doin'?"
We have seen heartbreaking human suffering, abuse, and loss. As much as we might try to "leave it all at the office" we cannot always shove it in the desk drawer, turn off the lights and head home with a peaceful spirit.
It is at such times we have sought solace in each other.
"Hey, whatchya doin'?" she said. "Why don't you come on over tonight for dinner? We need to talk." I did, and she introduced me to her fiance -- a wonderful man who would give her all that she deserved. The joy of a good marriage. She was long overdue!
She has asked me that question when her voice bubbled over with happiness because she wanted to tell me her daughter was engaged. And again, twice, each time she learned her daughter was pregnant.
"Hey, whatchya doin'?"
That evening we got together and shared our fears. We were no longer young women and the fast rushing reality of years gone by seemed to hit us at roughly the same time.
"My folks are getting older. Oh, Kathy! I am so afraid of losing them."
Tears burned hot in my eyes. "Me, too." My father had died years earlier but my mother and step father were still alive and very much a part of my life.
"Hey, whatchya doin'?" I asked one late afternoon. "I just got in from work."
"Why?" she replied.
Emotion choked me as I tried to squeeze the words past my constricted throat. "I have cancer..."
On another afternoon, when I woke up from surgery, I saw her face. By her side was her youngest daughter. They both smiled tremulously.
Their eyes shimmering wet. Their expressions full of love and hope. They had a gift and a card for me, but to this day I cannot tell you what the gift was.
All I saw was the glow of a loving friendship reflecting back to me -- the years we had shared our secrets and hopes, our fears and triumphs.
"Love you!" she said.
"I love you, too." I garbled roughly through my tears. "Thank you for being my friend."
Two and a half years have passed since that afternoon. We still greet each other with that old phrase. And every now and then we will say...
"Love you! Thank you for being my friend."
And when I say those words, I count myself blessed to have your friendship, Paula.
"I love you. Thank you..."