Big Birthdays | Big Friendships

A few weeks ago one of my best friends had a ‘significant’ birthday.  

Its approach held some trepidation for her as it felt like a gateway into a place that she wasn’t ready to inhabit; an uncertain threshold, into unchartered and dark waters made up a mix emotions and unknowns. Was she nearing the end of her working life, or losing the eligibility to wear the highest stilettos, or joining this mythical older group of humans on the planet who are often portrayed as quaint imbeciles in party hats?

But most importantly many of her greatest challenges in both family and close relationships had occurred around her birthday; really big challenges like the death of a loved one and the breakdown of her marriage.

And even though, in complete contradiction to her fears, she has just landed a remarkable and much sought after new job, moved into a very stylish New York-style warehouse in inner city Sydney, and looked for all intents and purpose to ‘have it all going on,’ my darling friend had decided she was going to give the whole birthday thing a miss. It was only after one of her nieces reminded her that she looks better now than she did ten years ago, and that everyone would help, that she agreed to have a small, low-key get together.

Thankfully over numerous therapeutic cups of tea, a few tears and a smidge of soul searching she worked her way through those fears in the weeks leading up to ‘the big event’ a transformation happened. She abandoned fear, let go of any doubts about the future and stepped into her true and totally gorgeous self — and she became magnificent to behold!

On the night of the party (which had morphed from small, low-key to the more appropriate large, exuberant) I had never seen her look so composed and absolutely glowing, with a sense of calm, beauty and grace that comes from well-earned experience and wisdom. She looked to me to have catapulted into the stratosphere where celestial Goddesses live; magnificent women of poise and self-assurance like Helen Mirren,  Judi Dench and Michelle Obama to name just a few.

The insecurities of her younger years were gone, the need to be anything other than herself gone, nor the need to keep everyone happy.  She was fully herself.

Here stood a woman in her prime. 

It was a joyous party overflowing with love and memories as old work friends, new colleagues, family and a wonderful group of women ranging in age from 22 to 92 became the colours of the rich pastiche that is everything she has achieved and become. And it is a breathtaking panorama worthy of such a beautiful woman.

As the speeches were being made I remembered how many tears we had shed in our early years together with babies, big life experiences and huge changes in our lives. I also reflected on how very hard it had often been as we, and all the other women in our family and friend  groups, navigated our way through the years of growth, setback, triumph and disappointment — no longer expected to tend only home and hearth, but now furiously adapting to the changing times of juggling work, home, family, career ambition and having time for ourselves. Phew! What an achievement!

And I realised standing there, in that wonderful moment, watching our family and close friends speak of her so lovingly, that none of us would have been able to do this— this beautiful, bizarre, extraordinary and mysterious life thing — on our own. 

We have all lent on each other every step of the way.  Tea, tissues, sage advice, fashion disasters, and very naughty children; together with the odd existential crisis, catering triumphs (70 summer puddings for an engagement party), and then marriage breakdown and career disasters have all been shared. Never solitary. Never alone. Women together. 

Ladies, we need each other to get through, we need the assurances of an alternative voice to help steady us in our moments of deepest fear. When the times are tough we need a friend’s perspective, support , belief in us so we can get clear and stand up when we just want to lie down and give up on ourselves.  And in that moment I saw proof positive, beyond any shadow of a doubt that it works.  The help, support, love and care of other women for each other works.

My dear, darling, stupendous, feisty, dream-loving, ever-optimistic yet vulnerable and fragile friend is kind, loving, prodigiously intelligent and creative and has been a big and bright light in my life and the lives of many others.  She is one of my inner sanctum.  And I wouldn’t be me or have done it —this beautiful, bizarre, extraordinary and mysterious life thing —  without her.

So I salute you — oh to heck with it — Alison. I am so grateful for your support and love and laughter, the tea and tears, the packing boxes, and the many miles that we have travelled together and been together. 

So here’s to the next thirty years, where we can say more of what we believe, be completely outrageous, be more loving and more fulfilled, and stand together and for each other and all of the other women we know.

Who is it in your life that you would like to thank and salute? As you acknowledge the richness of your life, and recognise the love and support that you have been given,  your perspective will change and your life will be all the more richer for it.

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