This afternoon I took a walk in search of the first coltsfoot blooms of the season. They usually appear on March 21, give or take a day, but this year winter has hung on longer than usual, delaying their appearance more than a week. This winter has been a difficult one, filled with reminders of our mortality. Never have I been more eager for the appearance of spring!
I was even more eager to see them today after receiving an unexpected phone call from my brother in Richland, Washington. Kathy Utz, a dear friend I’ve known for 43 years, died a couple of weeks ago. The news felt like a sandbag hitting my solar plexus. I had no idea she was ailing, and I’d planned to call her later today to wish her Happy Easter.
Since my brother knew no details, I called a mutual friend to get the rest of the story. Talking about our grief and sense of loss helped us both. Story is like that. It’s how we make sense of things, individually and collectively. I had to know more details to calm my shocked brain, and telling the story again gave my friend an opportunity to deepen her sense of it.
Going for a walk and finding the flowers helped too, in an odd way. I usually find the first blooms on the uphill side of the road on a sunny curve about three-quarters of the way along the half mile walk to the stop sign. I found none on the bend where they always make their first appearance, confirming my suspicion that this winter will never end. As I turned around at the stop sign, I glanced down the hill on the other side and breathed a huge sigh of relief. My spirit soared as I saw them blooming in abundance in a new location, out of sight from the road. After spotting them, I continued to find blooms every few yards all the way home.
Buoyed by this discovery, I realized the need to get out of my mental rut. I began thinking again of my friend and all the adventures and we shared and plots we concocted. I determined to come home and begin writing as a tribute to her and a way of healing my grief.
I’ve already written about some of those experiences, like sitting in her kitchen feeling like a beached whale the afternoon before my daughter was born, two weeks late. I’ve written about campaigning with Kathy for the Washington State Equal Rights Amendment and going to trashy movies together as couples and trading babysitting and lobbying to bring liberal arts classes to the University of Washington extension campus in our community. A long list of other stories awaits the telling.
Although our paths diverged as she became more involved in politics and we followed separate career paths, we always stayed in touch. She’s the only one I have seen on every visit to Richland since we left in 1985.
Writing “our” story will help me cement those memories, and exploring some deeper meanings is sure to spark new insights. I will send some of the stories to her sons as a legacy. They are part of her history that she never did write.
Finding the coltsfoot in a new location inspires me to try new perspectives and look for new meanings in unexpected places as I write. I will not only resurrect those memories, I’ll turn them to gold, the color of coltsfoot.
Write now: think of the friend you’ve known the longest and make a list of adventures and experiences you’ve shared. Include simple things like chatting over coffee or talking on the phone every day. Record any disagreements or conflicts you may have had. Select a few items and write the stories around them. Include your assessment of the situation at the time, and how your thoughts and understanding have changed in the interim. Explore what this person has meant to you and how she or he affected your life. When you finish, share a story or few with your friend, or surviving family members, as the case may be.