For ten years, I have gotten together with a group of girlfriends from college. We call ourselves the NOGS, a silly acronym that materialized after our very first weekend, a time when we had more courage than sense, more tone than flab.
So much has changed in our lives over the past decade, yet at the same time, so many things are remarkably the same. The personalities, the wit, the enthusiasm, and the outrageous zeal for life are still ingrained among us despite the individual challenges or journeys each of us have embraced.
I have struggled the last few days as to the words I would use to describe this group of girls that make me laugh until my stomach remembers it still has muscles. But then, I read the note written by my friend Ivy, posted below, composed perfectly and with pure NOG joy, and I knew that her words could have very well been my own.
Back home after my annual NOG weekend with my circle of 7. We call ourselves the NOGS - a silly, silly name that emerged when we first started this annual trip TEN years ago! and yet has STUCK, a crazy glue kind of moniker.
Over the years a few of the group have written about us on blogs, even in the local newspaper; many have heard of us in their communities giving us this rather infamous status in the minds of locals about the southeast. But up until tonight, I've kept the NOGS a bit of a secret. Why you might ask... well in leading a more public life, dragging ones friends along isn't really very friendly. Personally, I considered it best to hide them away so that no one would know that for me they are both kryptonite and balm. These girls (and in mind we will always be girls) are my talisman, a source of strength, wit, perspective and unfailing love in good and bad, plenty and want.
That is until this trip.
You may ask what has changed , and I'd have to tell you EVERYTHING - everything has changed. Because this NOG in contrast to the joy of my "mid-thirties" pregnancy ( bookends as I was a mom first and may be mom last among us) was the Thursday night news on a porch overlooking the Atlantic that F.I. had just undergone a breast biopsy a few days earlier and would get the news Monday whether benign or the "C" word. Literally I felt the wind shift, the world pause, time slow. We're not ready for this - this chapter. It is too early, too unfair.
This collective and this tradition began because as newly marrieds, new initiates to motherhood, we did NOT want to lose ourselves, our friendship, our memories of who we each had been in a different time and place, our fun. The trip was an annual respite (NO excuses), initially with little, if any, resting until after we had painted a town CARDINAL (Red); followed by hours of movie watching and cookie dough eating. Over the years we've developed rhythms and traditions such as gifts for one another over a homemade Thursday night meal, photos of our children and travels over the past year, even a soundtrack of songs which act as a tether to our glory days at Mercer. Woven among the sameness are the shifts, that when in the throws have felt seismic; births, deaths, marriages, divorces, jobs gained, jobs lost, family gained, family lost.
Each NOG has unique memories associated with it, often a unique buzzword as well (this year's P.O.P.), memories we revisit and relish over time. But not all our travels have been blissful in total, like life some trips have been marked by strain, upset, a sharp critique, unkind word or disappointment between friends. This may be another reason I chose today for the big reveal of one of my secret sources of comfort, advice and power. Most versions of friendship are too candy cane happy and fail to acknowledge that sincere and enduring friendship can and on occasion will contain disagreement and conflict. The NOGS have not always agreed with my choices, in fact, with certainty they have not; nor I with theirs. But the gift we have given with consistency through these past ten years as travel partners ( before that as co-eds) and as dear friends is the gift of love without condition, acceptance, a port in a storm, a listening ear. Those gifts are not synonymous with endorsements , but they are consistent with the cornerstones of holy, honest, redeeming, lifetime friendship.
So I write this love note to them and about them BEFORE I know what Monday holds for my dear, dear, F.I. The world may upend itself tomorrow. The emotions associated with that, fear, anger, confusion and grief, could cloud the "realness; the realness that places us picking each other, year after year, to share a history, to share our lives with candor, openness, warts, wounds, the works. For all the years that you have given the authentic and awesome gift of " let me be me, lift and inspire me when needed" kind of love, my boundless thanks, and bold prayers for many more.