Kathryn at work at Seaside, her MFA residency program with Pacific University
I have many friends -- friends on Facebook who date back to first grade; friends I keep in touch with from junior high and high school; college friends and professors; graduate school friends and advisors; former university colleagues; former and present neighbors; online friends, some of whom I have met in real life and some whom I have not (yet); church friends from Lake Murray and Alpine Anglican. All are extraordinary; all are cherished.
But every once in a great, great while, God crosses my path with a truer-than-true friend, a friend-of-the-soul. A friend who sees into my very soul and somehow, miraculously, likes (even loves) what she sees. A friend who accepts every foible with an earnest desire to lovingly assist me in conquering those weaknesses. A friend who tells the Truth so lovingly, so compassionately, that the wounds are almost invisible, nearly painless, and heal rapidly. And I do the same for her, if less gracefully.
I am fortunate to have several such friends-of-the-soul, some friendships dating back to high school and college and several more recent. And without one of them, I know I wouldn't be writing poetry again, and perhaps I wouldn't be writing at all ... even here.
We were first introduced on the patio at Lake Murray Community Church between services by the pastor's wife who knew her as a fellow substitute teacher in the local high schools. Somehow poetry came up, and we found ourselves reciting the opening lines of T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" in unison:
"Let us go then, you and I,Aaaaah, a kindred spirit -- we both recognized the immediate friendship that has grown steadily over the years. A few months later when she took the stage at our church's Christmas Tea to read a poem she had composed on the Christ Child, I felt the nudge of the Holy Spirit to pick up my pen and start writing poetry again.
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherised upon a table...."
The nudge terrified me. I had not written poetry since college. Yes, I had been published in high school and college literary magazines, but that was it -- very "small time." Who was I to do what my friend did, getting up in front of a roomful of women to read a poem? How could I possibly become as brave as this lovely, poised, accomplished friend?
Despite fears that set my knees knocking and my heart racing, God started whispering phrases and images through my pen onto the page. Somehow, someway, I was writing again. The first poem that came to me was one He spurred me to share with our church as part of our Advent celebration, a poem simply called "Advent". Reading this poem during Sunday service was my re-entry into writing poetry again, and without my friend's encouragement, I don't think I would have been able to claim the whisperings of God for myself.
Kathryn (known as Kitty at church but Kathryn professionally) has been part of a "poetry posse" of incredible women, local poets, for at least twenty years, and one of them lived in my small town. When I was quite ill with my autoimmune issues, Kathryn drove up the mountain and took me the mile to Judith's home and we were immediate friends. Judith is a published poet, part of the poetry group called The Cass Street Poets, and also struggles with lupus; we immediately connected on a number of levels. Judith took me under her wing as I helped her organize a local arts council which we both remain involved in. With both of these poets' encouragement and support, I started writing more, gaining confidence, skill, and a toughened skin (which I very much needed and still need to improve in).
This month Kathryn is graduating with a Master of Fine Arts in Writing (Poetry) from Pacific University. I was privileged to proofread her thesis which is part original poetry and part analysis of the work of Franz Wright. Her work is incredibly accomplished and personal, the product of two years of intensive study and honing her talent. Yet despite her crazy-busy schedule of raising three children, being involved in ministry, and studying as a full-time student, Kathryn has always made time in her schedule for me and for many other friends to whom she is beloved.
Yesterday Kathryn drove halfway up the mountain to meet me at the closest Starbucks to my house, just to spend an hour with me, despite the fact that she was leaving at 5:30 AM this morning to fly up to Oregon for her final residency. She presented me with a gorgeous Bible cover and a signed copy of her bound thesis, Fire Season. On the acknowledgements page, she thanks me for being a "wise owl, for the hunting word." In her gracious penmanship, she thanks me for my "prayers, encouragement, and expertise, friend of my heart in all seasons." To be thanked on the same page with Marvin Bell and Ilya Kaminsky is quite incredible....
As we sat in Starbucks yesterday, I watched her sparkle as she described the presentation she will be giving at the residency, and I so wish I could go with her to watch her presentation, to meet the wonderful people I have only heard of, to hear the other presentations, gleaning wisdom from each writer and each poet, and to attend the church her cousin pastors (whose book, The Family Cloister, is listed in my sidebar). How I wish I could be there to applaud her as she gives this final presentation and graduates with her MFA. I am so proud of her!
Friends-of-the-soul. I am so blessed to have so many of them, and especially incredible friends like Kathryn and Judith who spur me on in developing the talents God has planted within me so that I may bloom in His Spirit. And I am privileged to do the same for them as we sharpen each other, encourage one another, and help each other realize His plans for our lives.