The fourth in a trilogy. (Yes, I get the irony.)
In one of the hardest periods of my life, I was jobless, flat broke, and unable to make my rent. I have a good friend in my life, Carolyn, who has always been like a surrogate mother to me. Over the 35 years that I have known her, she routinely reiterates the offer to help me if I am ever in trouble. When I told her then what kind of trouble I was in, I received a check from her two days later. It was a thousand dollars, which sustained me until I found my next job.
She told me that she would only regret having loaned me money if an inability to pay it back caused me to drift away out of embarrassment. I was indeed embarrassed that it took me so long to pay her back, but my shame could never keep me from being a part of her life.
I eventually paid Carolyn back in full, but it’s impossible to receive a gesture of help like that without also receiving a full measure of humility. Carolyn’s rescue made me resolve to follow her example. If I ever found myself in a position to pay that gesture forward, I told myself I would do it.
Three years ago, the universe blessed me with that opportunity. I have a good friend from my art school days who is self-employed as a web designer, a tough business since the dot-com bust. During a routine catch-up call, I asked her how things were going. Things were not good. She hadn’t had a job in a while. She had little food in the apartment, and her rent was due in three days. Her savings and her credit card were tapped. She didn’t know what she was going to do. I could hear the desperation in her voice, and yet she didn’t ask me for help.
I did a quick mental assessment of the repercussions of loaning her a month’s rent and grocery money. I could easily afford it, but she is dear to me, and I could not easily afford her friendship. “Neither a borrower nor a lender be,” said Shakespeare, for damn good reason. My bond with this friend is not the same kind of bond I have with Carolyn. I didn’t think it would survive the monkey wrench of a personal loan thrown into it. But what was more important—keeping a friend from eviction, or keeping a friend?
I sent her a check, and I made it as clear as I could that I was only loaning money on the condition that the loan never be an issue between us. If she could pay it back someday, great, and if not, there were no strings. She promised me that she would accept it under those conditions.
But having been in her position, I know it ain’t easy. Before the loan, we used to do one or two landscape-drawing field trips each year. Since then we’ve had only broken dates. We used to call each other several times a year. Not very many calls since then, though. The worst sign of the drift is this: I did not receive a Christmas card from her this year. She always makes hand-printed Christmas cards, and I treasure them.
I got a wild hair to make my Christmas cards this year at the last minute. I made them from a linocut. I’m good at a lot of things, but linocuts aren't one of ‘em, so I don’t know what I was thinkin’. I will be kind to myself and say they were imperfect, but I sent them anyway. Except that I balked a little at sending one to my art friend. She excels in woodcuts and I was embarrassed. But since I hadn’t heard from her, it seemed extremely important that I keep this Christmas link, the only one left between us.
When I got home from work on Christmas Eve, I had a message from her on my answering machine. “I got your card,” she said. “I was in a total funk until today. But I got your card, and now I’m not. I’ll be home all evening. Call me.” Which I did. Our friendship has survived the monkey wrench.
Another friend emailed me last night: “I don't understand why contentedness isn't contagious, being bummed out seems to be.” I responded to her that all moods are contagious.
So don’t be in a funk. Be of good cheer. It’s catching.