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  • Writer's pictureKimberly OLeary

Back in Home Base: Part 2 - With a Little Help from my Friends (travels with my ukelele)

Updated: May 27, 2023

I've had a lot of time to reflect on the meaning of friendship since landing back in home base. With a few exceptions, we were away from all of our friends for almost five months. Considering this will be our lifestyle for the foreseeable future, I've really paid attention to what is special about many of my friendships.

When I think about it, I've had good friends all my life. I've moved more than a lot of people, but somehow, I seem to find long-lasting friendships. I've also been fortunate to count among some of my closest friends many members of my family.

As long as I can remember, my parents, grandmother and aunts encouraged me, sang to me, and indulged my many hobbies and my excitement over ideas I was learning. My first "best" friend in grade school invited me into her home many weekends, including me as a member of her family and creating a peaceful refuge. In 7th grade, I had a friend who bonded with me over a love of books and adventure. In high school, my group of friends liked school, liked to sing, and encouraged me to go away to college and explore. They understood the efforts I took to travel to France as an exchange student the summer before my senior year, and my need to branch away from Southern Indiana for college. In college, I had a friend who helped me navigate my first boyfriend while at the same time being willing to explore facets of history and philosophy and political science and literature that seemed to come at us at breathtaking speed. My husband, Paul - who I've counted as a friend for almost 48 years - engages with me in long, in-depth discussions that have helped me understand myself, my culture, how I impact others, and my place in the world. When I started teaching, I had a friend who mentored me in the profession and patiently helped me process issues of culture and race. For the past 20 years, in Michigan, I have had friends who partnered with me in teaching and parenting and writing. More recently, a couple of friends helped me get through lockdown by having virtual coffee and conversation weekly, and collaborating on projects meaningful to us. My ukelele teacher is one of my biggest cheerleaders, always focusing on helping me grow the way I want to grow. Yet a different friend and I bond over a love of travel and a hometown connection that goes way back, even though we're both based in Michigan. Friends cheer me on with encouragement when I post about our current adventures, and without hesitation help me with medical and transportation needs. And in the best stroke of good luck, my children and their partners have become close friends and confidants, as are my cousins. .

What all of these people have in common is they encouraged me to become myself - they never tried to make me be somebody else. In a world that sometimes emphasizes conformity, they let me be me. They support me emotionally, they love me unconditionally, and they never said "that's impossible." If I was down on myself, they reminded me that I was capable. If I tried to do too much, they suggested I might slow down. When I moved away, they never tried to pull me back, knowing that part of who I am propels me to keep exploring new places. Did the nature of our friendships change over time? Of course. Daily or weekly visits might turn into years, but with each of them, when I see them - no matter how long it has been - we pick up where we left off. I cheered my friend who moved farther away to live with her son and grandchildren, even though I'm unable to see her as often, because I knew it enhanced her life. I am proud of my friend who moved to D.C. to become an important voice in our federal government, and my friend who left the office we worked in together to become a judge. They, in turn, cheered me on when I moved to different places, worked on different projects, and ultimately adopted a lifestyle of constant travel. I am endlessly proud of my friends.

This past month I have had the good fortune to catch up with many of my friends. No longer working, I have the luxury of engaging in lively, focused and laughter-filled conversations. It reminds of my college days, when so often I would hang out with friends and talk about deep issues late into the night. I think when we were in college, we all knew we would be together for a few years, then go our separate ways, so there was an urgency and spark in exchanging ideas. Likewise, my friends and I know I will be in home base for a relatively short time before heading back out into the next adventure. So the time together feels joyful. I love hearing what they've been up to, and they seem to enjoy hearing my tales. I am a better "me" because I have spent time with them - learning from their musings and experiences.

I hope I can be as good a friend to these fabulous humans as they are to me - I hope I can give them a boost every once and a while, and that they know they can talk when they need to. While I'm not physically nearby most of the time, I'm only a Zoom call or e-mail away (although possibly in a different time zone!)

The Beatles communicated all of this in one nifty song, "I Get By with a Little Help from my Friends". To hear me sing that song with my friend Marla and my friend (and daughter), Kate, click here.


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