(make new friends but keep the old, one is silver and the other gold
The week before I was to leave for college, a friend stopped by to wish me well. She shared her experiences of college life to prepare me for what was ahead. One comment she made stuck with me:
“The friends you meet in college will be the best friends of your life.”
She continued: You all start with a common goal to graduate. Your friends will care for you when you are sick after a party, take you to the athletic trainer when you get injured, feed you some cereal when you are hungry, and throw a blanket on you when you are cold. You will turn to them when you need to go out and play and expect them to cheer you when you are sad.
How could these college friends continue to be the “best friends of my life.” Time and distance separated us. There were a few with whom I reconnected. I was a bit of a surprise to those who remembered a thin, tan, blonde, athletic, goofy Carol. And when I told them I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2008 they looked shocked.
Symptoms showed up in my late forties. My skin turned grey after a lengthy intestinal infection. I suffered through bilateral frozen shoulders and couldn’t hold our baby, Loren. At work, I was troubled by anxiety and restless legs syndrome.
At age 50 I was stiff, anxious, and shaky. I knew I was seriously ill. But with what?
My primary care physician thought my symptoms were due to anxiety and depression. Two separate neurologists nailed the diagnosis. They used words similar to these to explain: young onset idiopathic Parkinson’s disease. Five to-7 years before life gets really hard. Eat well, take your medicine and exercise.
Four years after my diagnosis I discovered distance walking. My husband Charlie, our youngest son Luke, and I chose to start this new pastime in a BIG way. We would conquer 500 miles of the Camino de Santiago on foot. This ancient pilgrimage route leading to Santiago de Compostela in Spain was quickly regaining popularity with adventurers. What started out as just the three of us ended with 10 Clupnys walking. The Clupnys shared a common goal, to get Carol to Santiago
As we neared the end of this 5 week journey the walking got harder instead of easier. My medication wore off at odd times. The heat and physical exertion slowed me down. Late in the afternoon I found myself hitting rock bottom. Charlie and I stopped at a bar for a break. I sat on the edge of a deck and asked the people around me if anyone had gum. A woman who had been “walking in the day”(on the same walking schedule) stood up. Back pack slung over her shoulder, she handed me a piece and stepped back on the trail. I was feeling so out of sorts that I snapped at Charlie. Since I was In an ugly mood I thought I might do better walking with someone new. I had seen her almost every day but I hadn’t met her yet. I said to Charlie “I’m walking with her” and I stepped onto the path to catch up. Her name was Veronica and she was from Austria. I realized that she didn’t have much English, yet I chatted as is she understood every word. We came to a tall bridge crossing a reservoir. She stopped. I turned to see that her face had gone white, and her body was visibly shaking. I pointed to the C-Team patch on my backpack and gestured that she was to keep her eyes on that patch. I turned to walk and felt her presence very close behind me. We made it across.
The next morning I saw her getting coffee and asked if I could walk with her again. I rattled off more of my life story and she nodded as we walked along. After dinner we met at a bar on the main street of the village. Her second glass of wine emptied, she started to talk. “Carol, I don’t always understand you. But I remember what you say. And when I am alone, I think about it. We are very much the same.” In rehearsed English she told me she was 54 (my age) and her adopted son was 19 (Loren’s age). She retired from her job to find she had a serious illness. She would see a specialist when she returned from the Camino.
I didn’t see Veronica the next morning as the family left our lodging. I asked around and found she had bussed ahead a day to catch her flight home.
I didn’t get to say goodbye. I didn’t get her last name, town, phone number or email. I wanted to see her again, to hear more of her story, to be a lifelong friend but it wasn’t going to happen. Disappointed, I turned toward the path to Santiago.
I savored the solitude this last day of walking. The rest of the Clupnys had passed me and were already in church courtyard . I made the last turn and there I saw Veronica carrying a grocery bag. I grabbed her hand. We laughed and hugged. She said she had to go catch her plane. I took off my pink hat and put my forehead against her forehead. My gold bangs touching her silver bangs. I sang to her “Make new friends but keep the old. One is silver and the other gold.” Oh my dear, I wish I would have met you earlier.
I put my pink cap on her head and walked toward the tunnel that opened into the church yard. I had given her two things I treasured: my stories and my favorite hat.
And I realized I still didn’t get her contact information.
It is now 2022. I have spent the last two years communicating virtually. There hasn’t been any forehead to forehead or silver to gold.
I was asked by Parkinson’s Resources if I was open to speaking individually with women who were exploring DBS. (Deep Brain Stimulation, a treatment for Parkinsons disease). The first to call me was Jane. We talked a few times and she decided to go ahead with the procedure.
Recently I met Jane in person. She told me her story of Parkinson’s Disease and how her life was changed by a terrible fall and the man who left her. I felt her hurt in such a deep way, physically, as if it were my own. I wanted to be there for her as a friend and a support. But in that pain, I realized I wasn’t completely healed from the emotional pain I experienced with my diagnosis 14 years ago. How could that be? It’s hard to support another person when you are crisis yourself. She recognized that and the tides turned. She became the kind and supportive encourager of me.
Jane had her community of support already built in a tribe of woman boxers with Parkinson’s. I wanted to compare it to my Camino Family and my college friends, who watched out for each other in the short term. No comparison. The band of boxers were the real thing.
Over some lengthy phone conversations, Jane and I discovered we had many things in common. But right now these commonalities felt like things, like objects. Her stories were not mine. My stories were not hers. We hadn’t walked together, “in the day” or as part of a family where everyone took care of each other. Yet.
The last time I saw her we hugged goodbye. I put my forehead on hers and she pressed her forehead against mine: gold against silver. And I knew why she wasn’t one of the college buddies, or a member of my Camino family. I wanted to have known her from the very first time I could know. But its much better that I get to know her now. As the person I am and the person she is.
And so its starts, another family, another person who is very much like me. We will walk the ribbon of road in the day and reach for the stars each night.
Your best friends for life will be those you go to college with.
Uh, no. The best friends for life may be those you meet later. The one you hardly know but trust enough to get you across the scary bridge. The one who isn’t afraid to let silver touch gold………uh oh. Jane what’s your last name. Do I have your email?