Make new friends and keep the old. One is silver and the other gold.
Earlier this month I received my dear friend Wendy’s annual Christmas letter. Because my last name happens to begin with B, I was among the lucky ones at the top of her list. The last time I talked with Wendy, which was just the other day, she was only up to H and feeling stressed. Wendy has a lot of friends and a large, sprawling family, so for her this is an especially busy time of year.
Christmas letters from some folks, I know, can set one’s teeth on edge. But not my friend Wendy’s. I think her Christmas letters should win prizes for their wit and tales of adventure. I think they should be published, at least in part, which is what I intend to do right here.
First, some background. Wendy Tyson and I have been friends for a long time. She reminded me recently about our first meeting: She and her husband and young family were living on Roosevelt Island, off the East Side of Manhattan; I was a student at Columbia University living on the Upper West Side. The year was 1977. A mutual friend from southern Africa put us in touch. I had dinner at Wendy’s while her husband was in London on business. A neighbor of hers, a British diplomat, joined us for dinner. She remembers our lively, three-way conversation. I only remember meeting her – the vivacity of her personality, the infectiousness of her laugh – and feeling I’d just made a new friend.
Born in Nairobi, Kenya, to a British father and a white South African mother 72 years ago this month, Wendy grew up on a large farm outside of Nairobi. She has lived in Florida for the past twenty years and been a U.S. citizen since 1989. But clearly she’s a true citizen of the world.
In our recent telephone conversation I reminded her of the time when I was living in Ségou, Mali, and I received a letter at the post office from her (this was the pre-email era) telling me she’d just been diagnosed with nonhodgkins lymphoma and given a short time to live. I wept all the way back to my house. What could I do for my friend from such a distance? How could I lose my old friend?
The following year, on a larger trip to Africa, Wendy came to visit me in Mali. She was looking and feeling well. When I probed about the state of her health, she laughed her earthy laugh. “Bloody hell!” she said, “I’m not ready to die yet!”
That was over fourteen years ago, and it’s still her staunch attitude. Today, as I write this, she’s healthy and happy, despite the stress of needing to write individual “love notes” to accompany her Christmas letter to her hoards of friends all over the world. Maybe she’s up to the P’s by now.
This is what those recipients will learn in her letter: Courtesy of her children, Wendy traveled to Australia and Singapore this year to see old friends. She writes, “I spent a week at South West Rocks in northern New South Wales with a friend I’ve known for 50 years, and then flew north to meet up with Marcia (a friend of 64 years; see photo below) on the Queensland Gold Coast. We drove up the east coast as far as Port Douglas, taking our time and exploring….” After a tearful goodbye to Marcia at the airport, Wendy flew to Perth “to meet up with another childhood friend, Charmaine. We went to grade school and high school together in Kenya – just the other day it seems!”
There are several more pages filled with true stories of exotic places and cherished people, people Wendy has loved through thick and thin through the years. I am lucky to be one of those people. There’s nothing like a dear old friend.
This is how Wendy’s Christmas letter ends:
“Happy New Year everyone! May it be a peaceful one. And when you get sick of watching politicians and others messing up our world, put your ‘sense of wonder’ cap on and go outside and admire something. I usually look for Fred, my big black snake who keeps all the poisonous snakes away.”
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To all of my old and new friends: Happy Holidays! And may 2015 be filled with adventures and laughter. — Bonnie