Lanni lives in Paris and is one of my very best friends. She is my go-to girlfriend for all the tribulations of single life because, although she is a little younger, she has far more experience in the business of being single than I do and she lives her life with more style and joy than anyone I know. Contrary to what so many people seem to believe about virtual communications, there is nothing virtual about our friendship. We chat online nearly every day. She is a real and present part of my life, 5,000 miles away, and I know we have grown closer in the time that we have had an ocean between us.
Lanni is the one who tells me to “Take a teaspoon of cement, princess, and harden up,” when I don't feel like doing hard things. She tells me to “Buy some lumber, build a bridge, and get over yourself,” when I need a little perspective. She regularly points out when I am being less brave, less honest and less true to myself than I should be. I never resent her advice because she is probably the bravest and most honest woman I know. She is also scary smart. And now she has cancer.
She has behaved exactly as I would expect her to behave in the face of something this awful. She has organized her life in a way that will allow her to go to battle with the disease. She has rallied the support of her legion of friends and her loving family. She has read books, quizzed doctors, taken up fencing and generally taken excellent care of her mind, body and spirit.
Last week, she disappeared.
Because she is so far away, and because she is really the only person I know in Paris, I had no way to get in contact. I went to our usual chat string and, even though she was not online, I told her how worried I was. And then, because I didn't know what else to do, I told her about my day.
At first I thought I must be a terrible person to be bothering her with the details of my date the night before, asking advice the way I always do, when I had no idea if she was even conscious.
“What kind of a selfish woman bothers a seriously ill person with her dating life?” I wondered
I felt guilty bothering her with the small stuff when she has such big stuff to deal with until I remembered that we are friends because of the small stuff. We are friends so that we can be there for each other when the big stuff comes. I tried to imagine myself in her shoes (which was hard, given the height of her heels). I figured I would probably want my friends to continue the ordinary rituals of friendship.
Three days later, she re-emerged. She had been hospitalized. The treatment had knocked her for a loop and she had been taken in to recover. I was so grateful to hear from her, typing away from her hospital bed, eating smuggled peanut butter, making wry comments to her friends around the world.
“Hello,” she wrote, “What's the latest in your careening love life?”
“Hey!” I typed, “I can't get along without you.”
Sometimes it's hard to be a friend from across an ocean. But if I were there, holding her hand, I'm not sure I would feel less helpless, or could be put to better use.
Till next time,