This came from my boss four days before I was due to take off for a week-long vacation to visit, in two separate jaunts, a couple of dear friends on the east coast. The trip was spectacularly ill-timed due to some big developments at my company on a transaction for which my input was critical to meeting its deadline. To his credit, my boss offered to pay for a replacement trip at a more convenient time, but I didn't want to reschedule at the last minute. I had already been working very hard and darn it, I wanted to go; hell, I needed to go.
So I headed out Friday evening on a red-eye flight. By the time we were airborne, I had been up for 22 hours, and operating on less than 4 hours of sleep the night before.
And here is where we get to a list of things for which I am supremely grateful:
1) Technology. A secure, accessible-anywhere-there-is-internet connection that lets me get my job done pretty much anywhere in the world.
2) Workplace flexibility. I have worked hard to earn the reputation that I don't let people down. I've been rewarded with an extraordinary flexibility in when and where I get my job done. Even when the success of one the most important events in the company's history was partially contingent on the performance of my job, nobody batted an eye when I said, "I'm going anyway."
3) An empty middle seat next to me on the red eye flight. Holly over at Nothing But Bonfires said it better than I ever could in her post about flying this week.
"On the plane, on the aisle of a row of three seats, I chanted The Frequent Traveler's Prayer as the other passengers filed on. Oh, you don't know The Frequent Traveler's Prayer? I just made it up and it goes like this:
Please please please please please please please please please please please plesase please please please please please please let nobody be sitting in this middle seat.I don't even remember the last time I flew on a plane that wasn't completely stuffed full of people. So I didn't dare to entertain such a decadent thought as I settled into my window seat with a pillow and a Delta blanket that left red fuzz all over my freshly dry-cleaned trousers. I was so involved in the 820-page novel I'd brought to pass the time that it wasn't until we were backing away from the gate that I noticed a distinct feeling of freedom. Space, sweet blessed space, afforded by the empty seat next to me, which brings me to the next thing I am grateful for...
You can mutter it under your breath or chant it in your head until... the flight attendant announces that the aircraft doors are now closed---at which point you may sigh with relief, turn to your neighbor on the window and exchange a smug smirk and/or fistbump, depending on his or her age and your feelings on fistbumping strangers in public."
3) Physical flexibility. I might possibly have missed my calling in the circus. I have the ability, rarely found in those past puberty, to curl myself into a 3 cubic ft ball and comfortably sleep that way. So as soon as we were airborne, I tucked my feet into the empty middle seat, stuffed every soft thing within arms reach behind my back to the plane wall and didn't wake until the flight crew were asking us to place our seatbacks and tray tables in their full upright and locked position for landing.
4) Last, but by far not least, the unconditional love and acceptance of truly great friends. I worked well over 40 hours on my week's "vacation." I'm not sure I joined my friend's families at the dinner table more than once on my visits to their homes last week. But my friends kept me fed, watered, and even cocktailed if necessary. They offered me sympathy and support and never once questioned why I was putting so much effort into work when I was ostensibly on vacation and there to visit with them, not to spend the week tethered to my laptop.
* * *
I've been friends with R for the better part of a decade. We've never even lived in the same city but became close while surviving an intense workload during a 9-month stint working together on a client in Manhattan. Few people in my world could have understood why I was working so hard last week better than her. She is pragmatic, driven, sympathetic and supportive. She cheers my successes, and I hers; she seeks and provides counsel in equal measures. She's not afraid to tell me what she thinks, she doesn't take offense at my own frank opinions and I know that she always, always has my back. I couldn't ask for more in a chosen sister.
I've been friends with S for even longer. It shocks me to realize that I've known her for nearly 3 1/2 decades. Where does the time go and when did I get this old? We met on my first Sunday at church after we moved to Pittsburgh when I was 4, when she offered to let me play with her stuffed cat. It had realistic fur softer than anything I'd ever felt before and I admired it immensely. She gave me that cat just before I moved across the country at age 14, and I stumble across it now and again when I'm organizing boxes. We roomed together briefly in college to cement our friendship as newly-formed adults. Despite long periods of disconnection, we have never held the passage of months or years between calls or visits against one another.
As we explored the depth and width of our shared history and put the current world to rights during the past few days, I realized just how lucky I am to have a friend who has known me for so long. It a rare treasure. We exist in such different worlds and might not have been able to find the common ground to connect our souls, had we not enjoyed a childhood together. It's a shame that we haven't lived within a few thousand miles of each other since I was 17, but I know it matters not - I always have a home where she keeps hers.
* * *
I had poured all of my mental resources into work before this break. I felt as though I had been turned inside out and wrung free of every last bit of energy I have to give. Although my "vacation" was anything but relaxing, being welcomed into my dear friends' homes for a few days with nothing but acceptance and support was a more restorative experience than I could have hoped for, and I can't thank them enough for getting me through the past week, and for the treasured friendships of many years.