I hadn’t even gotten her home from the airport before we were scheming about changing her return ticket.
Five days just wasn’t long enough—not nearly sufficient to celebrate fifteen years of friendship or to reclaim the winding span of months since we’d parted.
The last time I had seen her was in a dim Oxford hallway, saying goodnight and goodbye after a magical long weekend amid the cloisters and choir-haunted chapels. There had been tea at the Old Parsonage, a stiffly formal affair in which she had been undaunted and Continental enough to require an extra helping of clotted cream for our scones—a bit of brazenness for which I blessed her with all my soul—and a lingering farewell dinner at The Trout, wherein we had laughed so hard together that my husband had snapped a picture of the two of us in tears. I had dragged her to the tip-top steeple of St. Mary the Virgin, to give her one of the best views in all the world, and we had wandered over the grounds of Lewis’ Magdalen and picked up glossy-skinned chestnuts, or marron, as she called them, to remember a golden day by.
It had been a time out of time for both of us, a curious juxtaposition of old days and new, and when we finally parted ways—Philip and I back to the States and she bound for the Chunnel and Paris and husband and bebes—I had absolutely no idea when I would see her again. I only knew that God would surprise me, as He has so many countless times before, and that it would be a gift. As always.
And so, here we were, two and-a-half years later, with five days before us which we both knew would pass like a flash, and understanding husbands on both sides urging a change of plans. (We tried—every angle we could think of. But it just wasn’t possible on such short notice. And so the five days grew all the more precious, grew to a sweet burden of golden moments which I endeavored to glean for all they were worth, even as they flew.)
I wanted to talk her ear off, and hear every detail of the intervening years—the phone is just so woefully inadequate. But I also wanted to be quiet with her. She is that kind of friend, one with whom silence is natural and always has been. I wanted to give her a breath of peace from the city’s roar and fret, and send her home to her beloved ones rested and maybe a little spoiled. It made me happy to see her there in my sunroom, knitting quietly on the windowseat—like the calm and cherished presence of a sister.
I can hardly remember a time when it was otherwise. We made a triumvirate in the old days—she, my sister and I—an immediate and cherished kinship of soul, alternately solemn and silly as the mood seized us. Though technically living with another family across town, she occupied the extra twin bed in my room as often as not, and became so much a part of our family that my brother teased her with the same merciless candor he affectionately doled out to my sister and me. She entered into our interests and our joys with an enthusiasm not only commendable, but downright endearing. A Frenchwoman to the bone, and yet she loved the States with an open heart—an honest stance she managed to effect without losing an iota of her French-ness.
She opened new worlds to me, while assimilating so easily into mine. She taught me how to throw a dinner party, and how to make the perfect crêpe. She instructed me in the subtle art of buying perfume and, more importantly, how to wear it. She introduced me to champagne, though she doesn’t care for it herself, and she brought Nutella into my life, and tea from Mariage Freres. She was as happy sketching with my sister as messing about with me in the kitchen, and she was game for any scheme we cooked up with our friends, from moonlight croquet matches to Scottish Country Dancing to Jane Austen parties in full period dress.
She read Shakespeare aloud with my family, taking multiple roles when necessary, and we laughed at her literally talking to herself in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. But it was from Macbeth that we snatched a name for our threesome, in a moment of hilarity I think even the Bard would have smiled upon: The Weird Sisters, or, Les Sœurs Bizarres, as we liked to call ourselves.
There were whole nights we stayed up well into the wee sma’s, talking or messing with our hair or being ridiculous. But there were just as many—and these I remember the most—where we sat clenching hands and praying for one another in broken voices. I cherish this most about her, in a long friendship of bright-threaded goodness, that she has never shied from my darkness or my pain. She came into my life at a critical pass, and my life will never be the same as a result. That is the unknowing influence of a true friend. They simply are, and God breathes love through them in ways even they cannot imagine.
I always knew that she would marry an American. It seemed the most logical way for God to keep her close and in our lives. I seriously did not believe in her return to France all those years ago, even up until those last moments at the airport. It was so unthinkable I had convinced myself that God just simply would not let it happen. And when it did, I waited—a trifle audaciously, I’m afraid—for the miracle I knew would surely come.
There have been so many visits over the years. She was here for my last Christmas at home and barely missed my engagement to Philip by a couple of days (a fact for which I fear she has yet to forgive him). She traveled to the States for both my wedding and my sister’s. Philip and I traveled to Paris for hers. She did marry an American in the end, a good and godly man. And God planted them in France on a kingdom commission. How plainly we see our lives spread out before us at twenty-four; how clear and straightforward everything seems, when contrasted with the increasing complexity of time. There are so many dips and twists down in the valleys which we cannot see or imagine from those exalted heights of youth. Things seldom pan out just as we expect them to: friends move away or are called Home; opportunities arise for which we’d never dreamed, and seasons, sweet as they are, must give way and change.
It’s just such a strong comfort to know that, amid a shifting landscape of light and shadow, some things will never change.
This past visit was so dear, the mercy gift I’ve characteristically come to expect from a loving Father. I was able to chat online with her beautiful children and hear her describe to them the wonders of my peacocks in full, feathered glory. We dined on coquilles Saint-Jacques at a candlelit table on the porch and carried a formidable picnic to the farm. We ambled around the Square of the town where I grew up—and where we had so many misadventures back in the day—and we reminisced over midnight bowls of soup. She may have hidden behind me when I introduced her to my goats, but she understands and respects my love for them. And she spoke patient French with me, repeating things slowly when her words came out in a bewilderment of lovely incomprehensibility, and gently correcting my grammar and pronunciation when necessary. I blush to think of the times my sister and I howled with laughter over the slightest misstep she made with English—she who speaks it more beautifully and fluently than many Americans!—and the bywords we made of her adorable little sayings. What a good sport she’s been, and with what grace she has always accepted the affection of our humor at her expense! She could very easily have laughed right back at me this past visit, and countless times. But instead she praised my progress with her redoubtable language—Philip and I call it ‘tongues of angels’—and filled my head (and my mouth) with tricks and tips and charming idioms I’ve been rehearsing ever since.
And on the last night, we prayed for each other, clenching hands. I didn’t know whether to be more moved at the sorrow of yet another parting, or touched with inexpressible joy at the goodness of God in our lives. How His glories gleam out amid the folds of the hills. I never could have imagined it at twenty-four.
Je t’aime, mon ami. Vous êtes si chers à mon cœur.