I met my very first friend, Nicci, on the day I was born. Our mothers shared a room at the Mowbray Maternity Hospital in Cape Town. When we turned 6, her family purchased the house next door to ours, and we ran freely between the conjoining gardens. Our neighborhood was in the (then) sleepy fishing village of Hout Bay, the houses built below sand dunes, and close to the harbor. Although our families were quite different, our mothers shared a close friendship, and so did we. I loved spending time in Nicci’s house and the hours that we played together felt never-ending, in the very best way. Often her and Ouma (granny) were baking something delicious, and on some afternoons we would watch the 30 minutes of children’s television that was broadcast on weekdays. If the program was in Afrikaans (Nicci’s home language), she would patiently translate so that I could also understand the story line. I’d listen to her practice the piano, and hang out in her older brothers’ bedrooms, listening to their music and feeling quite honored to be looking at their pop posters.
My home was quite different. My parents were yoga practitioners, my dad was a surfer and we were trying on vegetarianism. It wasn’t unusual for my dad to be standing on his head for long periods of time, and for incense to be burning. If Nicci’s home felt grounded to me, my house felt somewhat exotic to her.
I never lived in Hout Bay again, but I think of those years as the foundation of my life where some deep seeds were planted. Life felt simple and slow and the pieces of it were mostly clear. Nicci still lives in Hout Bay, only now with her husband, teenage daughter and a successful 20 plus year career with the same company. Her parents have passed on and their ashes are planted beneath a fruit tree in her front yard, strung with small twinkling lights.
When I return to Cape Town, I grab onto that golden thread of first friendship by spending time with Nicci. In her presence, not only do I connect to her warmth and steadiness, but my deep roots. That sweet young friendship was one of bearing witness to each other’s lives as they were just beginning.
At age 13 my parents sent me to an all girls school. There I met a group of girls that a teacher warned me to stay away from. She said that they were a bad crew and I could do better. But I had firmly claimed them as my friends. They were smart, strong willed, outspoken and hilarious. A couple of years later my mother decided that I was “underachieving” and it was time for a private Jewish day school. A few of those girls also made the switch around the same time. Together we adjusted to the new environment and widened our circle of friends.
Over the years the intensity of these school friendships waxed and waned but the threads that were initially weaved held strong. We knew each other before the complexity of jobs; relationships; marriage; parenting; divorce and illnesses and other life events. And we witnessed enough to know that our friendships are sacred and worth the effort, even if months or, in my case, years passed between time together.
All these women still live in Cape Town and have crafted their lives in their own ways. But I left 20 years ago and I am humbled for their understanding when I say, “I’ll be in Cape Town and would love to see you but have very limited time”, which is pretty much almost always the case. Without fail we get it together for a couple of hours of connection and love. The gentle teasing and reminiscing is something I hold close to my heart. They hold me without judgement. They value that I show up, even for a short whilst. And in the company of these beautiful friends I feel very full, because there is something about someone witnessing, in one way or another, the whole trajectory of your successes, mistakes, wins and meltdowns and still gather with you and laugh and love.
In 2000, I fell in love and moved from Cape Town to Atlanta, GA. I found Atlanta to be huge, and other than my beloved, I knew not a soul. After a few months a teacher suggested that I connect with a girl named Vicki, also a South African, who had recently moved to Atlanta to study law. Vicki and I met on a balmy summer evening and the connection was instant. We sat out on the patio of the restaurant and talked and talked. For the next five years I had a friend who was there to witness the twists and turns of my relationship; my entry into marriage and motherhood. And in turn I saw how hard she worked to make it in Atlanta alone, and the grit, strength and smarts that it took.
After five years we moved to the MidWest. For many reasons, it wasn’t the smartest move, and I think that Vicki knew it. She continued to witness from afar, my struggles and challenges and was a solid, if not physical presence, alongside the beautiful new friendships that I made in Cleveland, Ohio. Her advice was clear and wise and the trust and steadiness of our long friendship a great gift and comfort.
Ten years later, I moved to Ojai, CA. This time the move was post-divorce with two kids. Again I knew almost no-one. The first year I spent hunkered down, praying that our new living arrangement would all work out because I had fallen deeply in love with the Ojai Valley. Making new friends was not a priority as I was all-consumed with setting the kids up and managing a unconventional co-parenting plan, since we were now living in separate states.
As it would have it, the intelligence of the Universe had set me up for deep friendship, when the house I had randomly rented, was next door to a super cool woman. Tasha was also embracing life post divorce, our kids were attending the same school, and seeds of an incredible new friendship were planted. I had one friend here. When my parents called worrying that I was lonely, I could say “Don’t worry, I have a friend next door”.
But in truth, of course, I had more than my new friend. I had friends in other cities and countries who didn’t think I was a nut job for moving to Ojai, or even if they did, stood by solidly as I was patching my life back together after divorce.
Since being in Ojai, my circle of sisters has widened and I find myself included in a group of women who are quite magnificent, including my dear friend Tasha. All are forging their paths in powerful and authentic ways. The love that is shared is for love’s sake not because of an exchange of any kind. And just like my dear friends throughout the world, they are examples of grace and strength. My beautiful friend Dena sent a note some months ago saying:
“It is incredible how friendship is not neatly defined, but a living organism with scraggly lines, seeping in and out of important times of our lives”
There is so much truth for me in these words. My friends have appeared at different and important times and the precious threads that connect me to them also connect me to all parts of myself and all times of my life. When we witness each other and have others witness us we become part of a community, and in that container we can feel support as we grow and expand.
That is the circle of sisterhood.