Carla, Patricia and I sat together in the historic New England church as the remaining member of our foursome walked down the aisle. Carla had flown in from Virginia and Pat had driven down from New Hampshire, meeting me in Connecticut for the ceremony. The four of us have been dear friends for 30 years, so this was a wedding not to be missed.
The bride was 82 years old.
Carla, Pat, Marilyn and I became fast friends at a church conference in 1985. In the afterglow, the four of us began meeting weekly for prayer, although truth be told, we spent as much time laughing as we did praying.
Within a scant three years, all four of us had moved to locales up and down the eastern seaboard. It did not take long for us to realize how desperately we missed one other.
Thus began a tradition of gathering each year, leaving behind husbands, children and responsibilities. We pick up conversations where we left off and spend hours walking the beach, preparing meals, laughing, crying and praying. Always we pray.
There is one unusual component to our friendships. When we first became friends, two of us were in our late 20s and two had rounded 50. Thirty years later, two of us are in our late 50s and two have rounded 80.
It was one of the 80-somethings who was getting married.
A lot of changes have occurred in our lives over 30 years. Both older women have been widowed. The younger women had babies, raised families and cultivated careers. There have been jobs lost and gained, knee replacements, breast cancer and financial strain. We celebrated an Air Force Academy graduation, the arrivals of grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and a return from the brink of death. These dear women even celebrated my family’s decision to become Catholic, which was no small thing for born-again Christian believers.
So there we were at Marilyn’s wedding as the bride and groom glowed. After the reception, Pat and Carla came back to my house for a delightful but far-too-brief overnight visit before heading home. We tried to convince Marilyn to ditch her new husband on their wedding night so she could join us, but he didn’t seem keen on the idea. Go figure.
Across the montage of memories, certain moments are especially dear. Years ago, Pat, Marilyn and I pulled off a hilarious surprise 40th birthday weekend that included husbands and children. One morning as the adults lingered over coffee, my 5-year old daughter Tierney sat glumly in the kitchen, picture book in hand, frustrated that she couldn’t read the words. Carla is a gifted teacher so she plopped down next to Tierney amidst the noisy bustle of Marilyn’s kitchen. Their heads bent in conspiratorial joy, Carla made the words on the page come alive. Carla taught Tierney how to read.
I remember the evening when Carla prayed over my 11-year old, who was having panic attacks. Another time, Marilyn’s 80-year- old husband David demonstrated the fine art of sledding to our terrified 3-year-old, who was convinced that her life was about to end. Minutes later, the two of them were barreling down the hill together with whoops of exhilaration.
We have feasted on Pat’s Middle Eastern cuisine and laughed at Carla’s infectious humor. We’ve poured out our hearts to one another about loneliness, fear, pain and jubilation, and carried one another during heartbreaking times in marriages. When a death occurred in Carla’s family, the remaining women banded together and elected me to travel to the Ozarks to represent all of us at the funeral. These are the women who have walked me through the darkest moments of my life, and shared with me my greatest joys.
The writer of Ecclesiastes likened a marriage to a rope of three strands – husband, wife and God. “A three strand cord is not easily broken,” he assured us. My friends and I think of ourselves as a cord of five strands – the four of us, and God binding us all.
Carla and I dread the day when the older women go to join the Lord in glory. Nevertheless, our friendships are firmly rooted in God’s lavish love, making it a cord that will not be easily broken.
Regina Cram lives in Glastonbury and is a freelance writer. She is the author of Do Bad Guys Wear Socks? Living the Gospel in Everyday Life.