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The Company of Women : Billie Best Blog

The Company of Women : Billie Best Blog

I gather energy from my women friends the way a hummingbird gathers nectar from flowers, listening to stories and opinions and sharing a conversation larger than my own mental chatter. In my 30s and 40s, I had a circle of women friends in Boston that we called Bridge Club. Mainly we drank and talked; sometimes we went to the beach. In my 50s and early 60s I had a group of a dozen women friends in the Berkshires who were fierce cooks. We gathered for a superb meal about once a month as we supported each other through life’s big changes. When I got to Portland in 2018, I searched for a similar community of like-minded women and discovered the Meetup app. There I found a large group of 50+ women that had weekly events organized by different individuals who acted as hosts. Just when I had made solid connections with a few women, the pandemic hit, and we sank into isolation for a couple years. I know this happened to people everywhere. Now it’s like a social scar we carry, a bone we broke that didn’t heal right. So with this new year, I made a commitment to myself to get back into physical face-to-face socializing. 

Lately, I’ve been craving the company of women. The female perspective. So, Saturday I drove a hundred miles north from my home to Portland for the day. I had breakfast with one friend, a woman I know well, and lunch with a group of seven who were new to me. In between I spent an hour in a bookstore. The experience was restorative. For the next couple days I could still feel the halo of those good vibes, the mosaic of interactions, the appreciation of personalities, new information. Validation. Education. Inspiration. These are the gifts of conviviality.

Physical socializing is a common bond for women our age, part of our history, a practice we learned from our families, schools and churches as we gathered around the Jell-O salad in smart skirts and nylon stockings. From the first birthday parties of childhood, through sock-hops and prom, graduations, weddings and baby showers, retirement parties and funerals, we were physically connected to each other by our presence. There’s that word. Presence. It’s a place based idea. For our whole lives up until now, socializing was physical. We may have written letters and talked on the phone, but those relationships were grounded by the ground we stood on together when we were present in each other’s company. 

Now many of us are staying home. Lifestyle changes have put miles between us. We relocate to better climates, better healthcare, to be near family, to experience the wild, to save money. My closest friends are scattered from coast to coast; we live in different time zones with different weather. Between our relocations, the challenges of aging and the pandemic, many of us have contracted into isolation, and with it lost our tolerance for differences. Our brains have become brittle like our bones. For convenience or by necessity we’ve shifted our interactions to screens, email, text, social media posts and comments, video chat. We are not so often in the presence of one another, standing on the same ground. 

At lunch on Saturday, the eight of us met in a restaurant chosen by the host and sat together for two hours in the sensual comfort of companionship. Face to face sharing the experience of being this age in these bodies in this place in this world in this moment as we witnessed our own evolution, the smell of the food, the waiter’s whiskers, the crowded bar, the streetscape beyond the windows, the city. I relaxed. I belonged. We talked about the rivers of the world, our favorite rolling waters, the places most ideal for a riverboat cruise. We talked about the changes Portland has been through since 2018 and how the social unrest has impacted our lives. We talked about our parents and our mothers. We were entertaining ourselves with our minds by exchanging sounds. Conversing. It’s a thing that used to be so common, a skill that came so naturally we didn’t even think about it, and now it feels special to be present for each other, physically connected by our biology. Engaged. Curious. Focused. A company of women weaving our shared resilience.

(Photo 1933, my mom, my grandmother, my great-grandmother and my great-great grandmother.)

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