Early morning, barely awake and jet-lagged, a word pops into my head: Happenstance, a poetic mingling of chance and circumstance. I do think there’s an order to the universe. I don’t think everything happens for a reason, but any unwelcome circumstance foisted on us, once we get past the anger or frustration or even denial, often gets us rethinking the trajectory of our lives. This is something Kate Atkinson touches on in Life after Life, a book I found less wonderful than I had hoped but one that left lingering thoughts.
My daughter, thousands of miles away, fractures her ankle. In pain and feeling helpless, wanting me to come out ASAP, we both know the lesson of learning to rely on friends who pitch in to take her to work, keep her company, help her get around. In her wisdom, she asks me to be with her during the transition from her cast to a boot. So, three weeks following the fall that brought on her injury, I fly out. A long weekend of TLC (cooking, shopping, inviting friends over for brunch, watching movies) goes a long way.
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. She resists, as I do, asking for help or favors, but isn’t it also true that those of us who are reluctant to do so are the least likely to take advantage of anyone’s generosity of spirit?
Once I knew I’d have one free day while my daughter was at work, I put out a call to five wonderful women, any and all of whom I hoped might be available to meet up with me. We met for the first time last summer, after many months of delightful, warm, supportive interaction online.
“A hug can tell you a lot about someone and a stranger walking by us as we greeted each other for the first time would have been forgiven for thinking we’d been separated at birth,” wrote Jayne Martin (a.k.a. ‘Hummingbird Jayne’) in her glorious, from-the-heart round-up of our day together in Santa Barbara.
This year’s rendezvous brought the Santa Barbara/Santa Ynez Valley contingency (Becky, Jessica, and Jayne) and the Dana Point/Laguna Beach duo (Britton and Rossandra) to Studio City, a central location just a few minutes from my daughter’s office in Burbank. Yes, a hug tells you a lot about a person, but this time we have the added familiarity of all those words we’ve shared in the course of a year—our voices so varied and distinct. Anyone who missed Jayne’s hummingbird tattoo when she first wrote about it was treated to an up close and personal view.
Jessica brought us up to snuff on her work-in-progress, a tantalizing tale that a piano teacher was meant to write (she also baked scones for each of us), Britton filled us in on the changed circumstances of her life, sparked when she found herself caught unawares by new love, as deep and true as it gets, and gave each of us signed copies of Greta Boris’s The Wine and Chocolate Workout. Becky, with her newfound coaching passion, is an embodied reminder that we get as much inspiration from our children as we give and handed us artfully designed bookmarks (with head shots of each of us) “celebrating the gift of words and friendship.” And we all got to hold up glasses of tea and lemonade (no wine at Aroma Coffee and Tea Company) to Rossandra, in celebration of her forthcoming memoir.
After lunch, not ready to say good-bye, what else to do but take a walk, peek in stores? A little shopping is good for the spirit. Given some of the stress underscoring my visit—spotting my daughter as she hopped up and down stairs, being that New Yorker negotiating the roads of L.A.— a play date with women who feel more like long-time friends each time we meet was indeed what the doctor ordered for me. I was buoyed. And that it fell together so easily touched me. Like the best of times, it went quickly. Hugs from those heading to points north. I reaped the benefit of more time with those heading to points south.
Even to this day we find ourselves asking how the group got started and marveling at how it continues to evolve, writer/friends who gravitate toward a cozy nook on Facebook where we share posts we’ve written and any other tidbits of relevance to writers. Facebook periodically asks me to give a description of the group. If I resist, it’s only because the ‘how’ (i.e., the serendipity that brings us together) matters more than the ‘why’ (which is a pretty much a given). To find oneself in a circle of kindred spirits is a blessing. A kind of happenstance.
Speaking of which, what could be more perfect than arriving home to a package, Lisel Mueller’s poetry collection, Alive Together? And how can I resist sharing a few lines from a poem bound to be deemed a favorite, “Why We Tell Stories.”
Because the story of our life
becomes our life
Because each of us tells
the same story
but tells it differently
And none of us tells it
the same way twice