a collision of IRL and online friends

I absolutely loved hearing Dani Shapiro read from and talk about Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love last week at Brookline Booksmith.  It’s not a secret that I adore Dani’s work and have reviewed many of her books here.  I’m also honored to call her a teacher.  She participated in my old Present Tense blog series many years ago.

My favorite book of Dani’s remains Devotion, and it’s not an overstatement to say that that book changed real and substantial aspects of how I inhabit the world.  She gave me permission, in some ways, to live the questions.  I don’t have answers, and that’s ok.

It was a treat to attend Dani’s event with one of my very oldest and dearest friends, Jessica.  I’ve written about Jessica before, and it’s a huge joy that she and her family moved to a town near ours last year.  She has taken a class with Dani before too (I’m waiting for Jessica, a gorgeous writer, to publish a book!) and we went together to the event in Brookline.

The whole night was an interesting collision of real-life and online friends.  I sat next to a friend I’ve known since I was 12, long before the internet existed. Another friend I knew first in person and then online was there.  I was listening to a mentor who I met online and have since gotten to know in real life speak.  I saw and met several friends that I’ve first connected with online: Jessica Braun, Laura McKowen, Rebecca Pacheco, Jennifer Blecher.

The evening was a wonderful swirl of real and online life, and reminded me that there are real relationships to be made in each. The online world gets a tough rap, I think, and there are certainly risks to digital communication.  But I also think genuine relationships can be seeded there, and I’m grateful for the people I’ve encountered here and on Instagram and elsewhere who have become real friends.

What has your experience of online friendships been?

I highly, highly recommend Inheritance if you have not read it yet.

Conscious of our treasures

On Monday night, I watched part of Whit’s hockey practice.  I stood at the end of the rink, watching him through the scuffed plexiglass (I can always identify him because he has red laces in his skates), and was overcome with a swell of contentment.  Thornton Wilder’s words, which always remind me of Aidan, rose to my mind:

We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.

I’m not sure what it was about Monday evening that brought those words, or that feeling of awareness of my treasures, to mind.  But I’ve learned enough not to question the moments that rise up, unbidden and unasked for, but to welcome them.  I thought of my just 12 year old son, brand-new braces on his teeth, skating competently in front of me.  I thought of our warm and safe house. I thought of our health and good fortune.  I thought of Aidan, then, grateful for having met her in this wild and wonderful ether, all those years ago.  Why precisely these words – from Wilder, whose Our Town speaks loudly to me – remind me of Aidan I’m not sure, but I’m glad they do.  I texted her with cold fingers from the rink, and then put my phone back in my pocket.

As I stood and watched Whit shooting on goal, I thought of the perennial struggle that exists within me to be here now while I also watched, through a (in this case, literal) pane of clear material.  I’m removed from and engaged in my life at the same time.  I think it’s time to just let go of that struggle, to recognize that the tension that exists between those two poles is at the heart of the way I am in the world.

This is both the animating challenge of my life and the source of most of its color.

Maybe I’m inching towards the acceptance of those poles, which seem as opposed as do my two simultaneous ways of being in the world.  That’s one of my treasures, no question.  So are the family and health I noted, the dear friends (Aidan among them), words on the page and in the ether, the sky at dusk and at dawn, and so many other things.  It’s absolutely true what Wilder says, that when I’m aware of my deep good fortune that I feel most alive.

The bell rang, Whit came off the ice, and, with a gesture that means “hurry up!” I went to go wait for him in the car.  Conscious of my treasures, and fully alive, we drove home.

Seventh annual


Saturday night sunset on Chappaquiddick

This past weekend I was with my native speakers.  It was our seventh annual weekend gathering (2010, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 – not sure how I missed 2011).

This year we were a smaller band than usual, and it was hard not to notice the ways that life’s demands kept many away.  We are in The Middle Place, there’s no question about that. In the past year we’ve celebrated christenings and sat at the bedsides of ailing parents.  We’ve watched children be born and turn into teenagers.  We are reckoning with work challenges and what marriage looks like after 10 years and who we are.

We have reached the top of life’s ferris wheel.  The view is spectacular, but we know the trip down will be too fast.

We’re walking together – what an outrageous blessing it is to write the word together, I know that – into the early afternoon of life.  As I drove Grace and Whit to school on Friday morning, before heading to the airport to pick up a couple of friends who were flying in, they wanted to know more about who was coming.  I described each person, all of whom are familiar to my children (what a pleasure that is!), and then said to them that I hoped in their life they made friends that they’d make a point of seeing every year.  I didn’t expect the tears that filled my voice and eyes as I said that.  It’s true, though: one of the many wishes I have for Grace and Whit, and one of the fiercest, is that they meet friends like the ones I’ve been lucky enough to make. People who will answer their texts and calls, laugh and cry with them, people who will show up.

I’ve written before and I’ll write again that these friends are the ones who knew me as I was becoming who I am.  We are part of each others’ lives in an indelible way.  We share a colorful, vivid past, a rich, exhausting, blessed present, and, God willing, a long future. We experienced together some of life’s most formative years.  These women are a part of what shaped and molded me into who I am.

On Saturday night I sat at the top of the bluff outside of our hostess’s house and watched the sun set.  I took the photo above (and many more).  I was struck silent by the spectacular pageant in the sky, but I was also overcome by an immense wave of gratitude. I love our tradition and hope there are a great many more weekends ahead.

The people who show up


Matt the day after surgery.  Things actually went seriously south after this, but they are stable now.

For better or for worse, the last month has given me a lot of insight into certain friendships.  First let me say that Matt has an injury, not an illness, and he will be totally fine in time.  I realize this is a situation of great good fortune and that in the big picture this is just a hiccup.  It is also true, however, that this has been a substantially difficult few weeks in our  family’s little life.  Reentry into school, restarting sports, all with just one driver and adding many (many) doctor’s and PT appointments on top of everything else has been challenging. There were some additional non-Matt-related hiccups in the first week or two of September that added texture and complexity to our lives.  Everyone is fine now.

I also work full time, which is not inconsequential. In short, this has been a challenging time.  And certain people have absolutely blown me away with their support.  I will never forget the friends who showed up on our doorstep bearing food, sent gifts, or offered help.  People have sent and lent books and given many suggestions of things to read, watch, and think about.  People have come by to sit and keep Matt company for meals.  People have helped me with driving.

The kindness of people – family, close friends, and, frankly friends who weren’t that close before (but are now) is hugely notable.  It goes without saying that not everyone has responded this way.  That’s not what I want to dwell on.  What I want to consider, celebrate, and ostentatiously acknowledge, is the kindness of people in our lives who’ve gone out of their way to both help and check on us.  Even a simple text checking in and offering help goes SO FAR.  Seriously. The generosity of so many people has moved me and indelibly changed how I think about them.

It also has made me consider my own behavior in the past when friends near or far have struggled. I have been feeling a lot of guilt about certain instances in the past when I wasn’t there enough for friends.  I did not realize the insensitivity of not checking in, and now I do.  There are the friends who show up, and my devout, deliberate intention going forward is to be one of them for those I love.  It takes so little, honestly.  A phone call.  A swing by when you’re out doing errands.  A text.  I am sorry, and I am grateful, at the same time, all the time, right now.

Let’s be the people who show up.

Unseen things that do not die


I went back this past weekend, to Princeton, to hazy, hot, and humid, to the embrace of my dearest friends, to the magnolia-strewn space that holds some of my most vivid and most important memories.

It was a weekend crammed to the gills with joy.  It was the best reunion yet, and I have been to all four of our major reunions (as has Matt!).  My friends – whose greatness I’ve written about at length – are just getting better and better with age.  People seem ever more comfortable in their own skin. Something was in the air this weekend at Princeton, and everyone I encountered seemed charged with happiness and positivity. Maybe it was the heat and humidity.  Maybe it was the beer.  I don’t know, but something special suffused these past several days.

On Labor Day Monday, 1991, my father and I drove from his parents’ house on Long Island to visit Princeton a last-minute whim.  I had already written my early application to another college, but my father’s twin encouraged me to look at Princeton.  So we did.  And it on the steps of this arch you see here, Blair Arch, where I turned to my father and said that this was where I wanted to go to school.  I recall that moment with crystalline detail, and as I told Grace, Whit, and Matt about it, my eyes filled with tears.  There’s something about Princeton that makes this happen often.  The place, and the people I met there, are lodged so close to my heart.  My years there were certainly not without difficulty, but they remain the most sun-dappled of my life and are without question where I became who I am.

On Saturday I participated in a panel called “Books That Changed My Life” alongside several distinguished alums.  I was certainly the weak link among the panelists, but I loved hearing what they all had to say. I could talk about books all day long.  One person said of at a certain point in his life that when he read he “was after awe.”  That phrase struck with me because I don’t think I went into Princeton – either in 1992 or this past weekend – specifically looking for awe, but that’s what I found both times.

Awe. Wonder. Joy. Grace.


Four of our daughters before the P-Rade.  Grace is the tall one!

The best part of the weekend was seeing Grace and Whit with the children of my dearest friends. I am glad for Grace and Whit to see me with the women who are my most important group of friends. I love the example that friendships can endure and anchor us.  I met most of these women when I was 18, and and that’s only 5 and 7 years away for Grace and Whit (Oh.My.God). It is one of my most devout hopes that they have friends like this in their lives.  I remain amazed that such extraordinary women are my friends, but, also, slightly more certain that they are.  For life.  There was something unconditionally supportive about this weekend that I can’t put into words, and it was remarkable.

On Friday night I spent about an hour and a half dancing to 80s songs with one of my roommates and my daughter and her friend.  All over the place, over and over again this weekend, memories swamped me, and time did that telescoping thing when now and then collapse into a single, swollen moment, but maybe never more profoundly than on that dance floor.  C has been one of my very best friends for 24 years now, and as she and Grace danced together my chest felt tight in the best possible way.


We walked, we danced, we talked, we laughed, and I cried a couple of times.  The P-Rade moved me as it always does, a boisterously joyful celebration of all things orange and black.  The Old Guard made me cry (and the whole weekend made me miss my grandfather) and then I was struck, as I always am, by how the procession is nothing less than a panoramic overview of the human experience.  The Old Guard, some walking slowly, some in golf carts, and then people in their 60s and 70s, then younger, and younger.  We went before the masses of strollers and babies this year, but I know they followed us.  And at the end of the parade are the rowdy young alums and, finally, the seniors.  I’ll never forget our senior year P-Rade, when we ran onto Poe Field, sunburned and happy and drunk on the headiness of the moment much more than on the free-flowing beer.

We waited together for our turn to fall into line (into the grand stream of life itself, no longer the young ones, not yet the older ones, smack in the middle, in the thick, hot heart of life’s grand pageant) and cheered, giving a locomotive to every passing class (Hip! Hip! … Tiger! Tiger! Tiger! 62! 62! 62!).  Our children sat at the curb at our feet, and in a couple of moments I felt lightheaded with the intensity of the moment. I will never forget that moment. Our class then fell into the procession, accompanied by our class float, a tribute to Ferris Bueller, with classmates singing and dancing in dirndls atop it.

This weekend was the best of life.  I felt aware in a visceral way of my great good fortune in having spent four years at Princeton.  The place, and the people I met there, left their mark on me in ways I’m still uncovering.  To be with the friends who knew me then is a great gift, a massive exhale, a profound coming home.  To watch my children with the children of those women who shared those seminal four years with me defies complete description.

Then we watched fireworks from the football stadium and, finally, spent, walked back to our dorm.  On Sunday we came home and all day I was both exhausted and full to the brim of love and friendship and learning and 20 years ago and today, of those unseen things that are referred to over the door of McCosh 50 (where I took many classes, and which I showed Grace and Whit one day).  Princeton gave me many unseen gifts, and they do not die.  I know that now. What an extravagant blessing that is.