I’m going to Fayetteville, GA next week to see my friend Janet, who has cancer and the most amazing fighting to stay alive attitude I’ve ever seen. Janet is the person who opened her home to me in 1998 when I came back from my first year teaching in South Korea. She never charged me a penny’s rent, helped me buy a computer and a car, and most of all, she accepted me exactly the way I was.
I was raw. I didn’t want to come back to the states, because I think I’m a true expat at heart. We’re both Scorpios, so we got along pretty well most of the time. Her husband was dying of Alzheimer’s and in a nursing home. I was so self-absorbed, I don’t think I was much comfort to her. We met online through a writing group. Janet was more of an editor than a writer, and she ran critique groups for budding writers – all online. Her site was writelinks.com, but it’s no longer on the Net.
However, while it was up and running, Janet did more good for more people than you can imagine. She encouraged, advised and just listened. She had a huge list of links to various other writing sites, resources which were invaluable to all the wannabe writers and pros alike.
A few years ago, Janet started knitting. She got so good at it that she started teaching classes at Michael’s, the hobby store for those of you who don’t know. Then she branched out. Instead of just knitting for friends or friends of friends, she started knitting baby things to be donated to an organization, the name of which I don’t remember. There are lots of these organizations, though, so if you’re a knitter, you might want to do a search for them.
Janet knitted me some washcloths to give as gifts to my family. I also got one. I still have it. It’s off white and the best cloth I’ve ever used to really get the dirt and grime off my face and body.
She has a mind like a steel trap — it traps information and keeps it to throw up as trivia or to explain some complicated medical process or to answer questions about everything from parenting to literature. I love her mind.
She’s traveled all over the world. Her husband Len worked for Delta Airlines and that was during the time when a buddy/family pass was exactly that. The pass cost a pittance compared to today’s rates. That was also when baggage was free, meals were free, and people took real books on planes instead of laptops and Kindles or Nooks. She has a map with little red push pins showing all the places she and her beloved husband went together.
When she was sixteen, she started a restaurant. Later she got advanced degrees in psychology and was a school psychologist for years. She’s soft-spoken and rarely gets angry, but she loves a good debate.
She’s from California like I am, and we had lots of laughs about how most people in the South don’t know what Swiss chard and artichokes are.
The night I arrived in Georgia from Korea via California, she took me to Ryan’s a buffet restaurant, so I could have my favorite stewed tomatoes and okra. She bought my favorite foods at the grocery store until I started making money with my writing and we challenged each other on computer games that didn’t involve killing monsters, aliens or humans. They were mostly word games as I remember. We both love words.
I call her every day now, just to see how she’s doing. Some days are good, some are bad. She’s in a lot of pain most of the time now. Treatments for the cancer are finished.
I like to think that God will answer my prayer for a miracle for Janet so she can go on being herself here on earth and enriching others’ lives. On the other hand, if God doesn’t answer that prayer, I know he must need another angel. Janet will be an awesome angel. I hope she’ll visit me often, but I know if I’m not on her visitation list others will be, and their lives will be all the better for the time with her.
So, I’m going to Fayetteville on Tuesday next week. I’ll stay in a hotel and visit her once a day for two days. She says she doesn’t need me to stay with her. I guess the way it’s going, it will be the last time I’ll visit her. But instead of thinking of it as an ending, I’m thinking of it as a beginning.
Well, it’s a beginning because our friendship will ever be new. It’s the start of another phase of her life and mine without her.
What I know today is that my mother used to say I would be lucky if I had two true friends in my life. I have been more than blessed with quite a few more than two. I don’t believe in numbering a list of best friends, with this person being number one, the next being number two, etc. However, I do know that Janet is at the top of my unnumbered list today. The hope she gave to me, the consolation she provided when I was down, the good and practical advice she always gave – they will always be with me.
Lord, I hope I can be as good a friend to others as Janet and others have been to me. I hope that I can give people strength when they are feeling weak, the words they need to hear when they have a problem, and the ability to bring a smile to their faces when they are with or think of me.
Who will you be a friend to today?