Multiplication is the Answer

I think about my friend Donna around this time of year.

In one of the cheesy Family Circus comic strips, a woman asks the mother of the family, “How do you divide your love among your four children?” The mom answers, “I don’t divide it. I multiply it.”

To me Donna was that comic in action, and I remind myself of both whenever I feel jealous of someone’s tie with another.

At her funeral, I remember realizing how far her reach extended. She had touched many individuals throughout her life. She had always made me feel special, and to know she had made others feel the same way brought home that there is not a finite supply of love. Caring for one person doesn’t have to diminish tenderness for another.

This should be obvious. I have family and lots of friends, a number of whom I consider close. Those in my circle are all important to me.

However, the same way a woman might criticize her appearance but be generous in assessing others, jealousy can creep in unwarranted.

Remembering Donna is like throwing a fist in the air and exclaiming that we have an immense capacity for feeling.

The second thing I sometimes think about since losing Donna: no one is replaceable. I’ve met smart, thoughtful people since her, and I have friends and acquaintances who support me and whom I root for. But no one is quite like her, and no one does it quite like she did. I suppose that’s awful and awesome at the same time.

Love is Kind

This time last year I would have already received a Valentine’s card from my friend Donna. She was already gone, but I didn’t know it yet.

This year I must content myself with reading her card from last year. The actual letter is safe in New Jersey, but I have a copy on my computer, too.108.donna.2015I remember, at the time of her passing, being struck by how kind my friends and family are.

– The friend who told me the news and later, attended the memorial service and recounted it to me
– The friend who had dinner with me when I arrived in Boston the night before the funeral, when I didn’t expect anyone to be able to meet up with me on late notice
– The friend who let me crash at her and her boyfriend’s apartment
– One of the career services people I knew who saved me from awkwardness after the funeral Mass; drove me to the cemetery, which was farther from the church than I realized and which I would not have been able to reach on foot; and dropped me off at a subway station so I could catch my bus back to New York
– The two friends who called me when I was in subway after the funeral to find out how it went
– My sister, who thoughtfully got a Mass card for Donna’s family
– My parents, who were supportive
– The friend who knew Donna too and with whom I could share stories
– The friends who sent me comforting words

Today I remember the envelope her Valentine’s card came in, with its pink script and matching pink postage stamp and pink return address label.

I remember sitting in her office two summers ago and her leaning forward with her whole body and laughing with her eyes all squinched up.

I remember sitting at my kitchen table and speaking with her on the phone before leaving for France.

I remember sitting in her office as a college senior, talking about the future.

I remember walking home to my dorm and talking to my college roommate about how awesome Donna was. I must have just had an appointment with her, and I can’t imagine what she would have said to leave me with that kind of enthusiasm.

I remember sitting in bed at night in Paris and reading her letter by lamplight and thinking, “Someone out there is thinking about me.” It made me realize how much value you can bring to someone from afar.

Today I think about her family and the people she touched.

Today I say to her, as I did a year ago, “Thank you.”

Thank You, French Cell Phone Plan

The other Saturday I took advantage of the sunshine that made it just warm enough to sit outside, a rare winter treat.

I chose a quiet spot in the Luxembourg Gardens and called my dad. Cell phone plans have made leaps and bounds here within the past five to ten years. All the major competitors offer calls to the United States at no extra charge, which means that with a regular cell phone I can walk next to the Seine and speak with my sister, who is in the States. My plan costs twenty euros a month and includes unlimited calls and texts in France, unlimited calls to all phones in the United States, Canada, and China and to landlines in many other countries, and data. It is amazing.

About a month ago a friend and I spoke about what happened to our relationships when we left our respective countries and came to Paris. She said that she cut off her ties there, not because she had any animosity towards her circle, but because she wanted to be fully present here. She was actually quite happy before she left, but now she is immersed in her Parisian life. Our conversation made me think of a fellow college student I knew when I studied abroad here; he was adventurous and liked Paris, but he spent a lot of time Skyping with his girlfriend in the States, whom he missed a lot.

I think it’s hard to have strong ties in your home country when you live abroad because you will feel a part of you is missing. On the other hand, I value those ties. As I told my friend, although my close friends and family are not physically in Paris, they are present in my life. At one point I realized that much of my emotional support circle is not here. However, I don’t think that depending on them prevents me from forming liens in my current adopted country. I have some close friends here and am always open to meeting new people and potential “kindred spirits,” as my friend Donna would say. At the same time, I don’t consider people replaceable. I’m of the mindset that once you find a good friend, you better hold on to them.

Certainly, I am not still in contact with every friend who has ever entered my life. Sometimes people are there for a specific period, even a very short one. Sometimes people are not good at keeping in touch or drop out of sight with no warning. I’ve learned to let those go. It’s precisely for that reason that the people who stick around are all the more important.

Later that day, after my foray in the Luxembourg Gardens, I took a long walk with a friend in her neighborhood. Then I had dinner with two other friends, the couple that hosted me during my first week in Paris while I looked for an apartment.

I leave you with a photo of the Luxembourg Gardens on a cold, clear day with an uncommonly blue sky for Paris.106.luxembourg