Natalie Malter, PhD candidate, delivered the following remarks at Morning Prayers in Harvard's Memorial Church on February 14, 2019.
Reading: “To All My Friends” by May Yang
That I could be this human at this time
breathing, looking, seeing, smelling
That I could be this moment at this time
resting, calmly moving, feeling
That I could be this excellence at this time
sudden, changed, peaceful, & woke
To all my friends who have been with me in weakness
when water falls rush down my two sides
To all my friends who have felt me in anguish
when this earthen back breaks between the crack of two blades
To all my friends who have held me in rage
when fire tears through swallows behind tight grins
I know you/ I see you/ I hear you
Although the world is silent around you
I know you/ I see you/ I hear you
While there are many different friendships I admire, perhaps one of the closest to my heart is the friendship depicted between Grace and Frankie on the eponymous TV show Grace and Frankie. Grace, played by the inimitable Jane Fonda, and Frankie, played by the ever hilarious Lily Tomlin, are two women in their 70s, brought together later in life through a series of unexpected turns. In many ways, Grace and Frankie are polar opposites, and yet through unlikely circumstance, they come to be each other’s best friend and each other’s primary emotional support through all the trials and tribulations of life and aging.
One of my favorite episodes of the show ends with a scene in which Grace and Frankie, fed up with their uncomfortable living situation in a retirement community, decide to break out of the retirement community by stealing a golf cart. When no one is looking, they jump into the golf cart, hit the gas, and speed past the security guard at the entrance gate, driving down the road to a nearby beach, where they abandon the stolen cart, and unconcerned with all the rules they’ve just broken, sit on the beach, free and defiant, looking out into the waves, silently holding hands.
Clearly, there’s just so much to love about Grace and Frankie, about the way the show celebrates the too often untold stories of older women, the way it so beautifully illustrates the power of friendship to transform our lives. We live in a culture so saturated with movies and books and music that celebrate romantic love, and yet, as Grace and Frankie teach us, the love within friendship—within those truly long-term, deep friendships—is no less meaningful and profound.
On this Valentine’s Day, I find myself reflecting on how grateful I am for the Graces and Frankies in my life, for the friends who’ve shaped me, the friends who—in the words of the poem we just read—“have been with me in weakness, have felt me in anguish, and have held me in rage.” I cannot even begin to imagine who I would be, if it weren’t for those constant friends, the ones who’ve helped me find my way when I’ve been lost, who’ve reminded me how to love myself when I’ve sometimes forgotten.
In my own life, maintaining these deep friendships has become a kind of spiritual practice. I’m inspired by the words of Sister Joan Chittister, a Benedictine nun, who writes that in order to grow, we must “surround ourselves with friends who speak to the best part of us from the best part of themselves.” Sister Chittister believes that this kind of friendship doesn’t happen by accident. Rather we must work to intentionally cultivate these relationships, to seek out time with the people who hold us accountable, who challenge us to move beyond our fears, and who help us foster courage and joy. This friendship building as an act of spiritual transformation, one which calls us ever more deeply into who we are meant to be in this world. For Sister Chittister this kind of friendship is a divine gift, one which requires attention and care.
And so on this morning, in the spirit of honoring and caring for those deep, transformative friendships, I invite you to think about the friends in your life, who in the words of Mister Fred Rogers “have loved you into being.” Take a moment to reflect on the names and faces of those loved ones. And perhaps, in the midst of the busy day ahead, take a moment to let them know how grateful you are to be in their lives. Because we should never take for granted the people who we would want at our side when we are about to steal a golf cart. Because they are the beautiful souls, who help us find our way home.