Google “circle of friends” and get over 3.6 million hits in less than 0.11 seconds. Everything from kids’ shampoo to support groups for Klippel-Fiel Syndrome, Maeve Binchy’s novel to Mexican imports. Mexican Imports, a web site specializing in rustic antiques and Mexican folk art, touts its “Circle of Friends” candle holder as “the world’s #1 gift.” That a piece of “rustic” Mexican folk art is the world’s number one gift is debatable; friendship is not.
Harriet and Don have been a part of my life for over thirty years. Living in Taft, a gritty little town in the southwest corner of California’s San Joaquin Valley, we were drawn together by a mutual love of literature. Over a period of eight years, we organized book discussions, poetry readings, foreign and art film screenings. We produced readers’ theater performances for children and adults, lenten programs featuring liturgical music, drama, and dance. We became friends.
‘When Harriet and Don retired, they moved into their dream home, a New England-style saltbox cottage on a wooded hill adjacent to the California Central Coast. Filled with primitive colonial American antiques, books, music, and memories spanning more than sixty years of married life, their home is a place where ideas are shared, discussed, and appreciated. It’s a place where Harriet and Don enjoy being known simply as “the folks who live on the hill.”
Two years after Harriet and Don retired, a change in career and lifestyle took me to Southern California. Throughout a period in my life I can characterize only as doubt-filled, confused, and tumultuous, I was sustained by Harriet and Don’s steadfast and unquestioning friendship.
Since leaving Taft, we’ve continued to organize annual or semi-annual reunions around particular themes or activities: a play, a music festival, a ballet, a movie, a poetry reading, a meal, simply being together. Regardless of the activity or theme, we’re fond of referring to our gatherings as “w’ot larx” after an exchange between Pip and Joe Gargery in Dickens’s Great Expectations.
Dori and I met when I joined a gay and lesbian business networking organization in the San Fernando Valley. Through her gay business partner, having recently lost her beloved son to the AIDS virus, Dori became active in the organization as a way of giving meaning to her life and of dealing with Kirk’s death. Our friendship was instant, organic, and without any question that we were destined to be the closest of friends.
Vivacious, effervescent, and intellectually curious, Dori radiates joie de vivre. Her presence lights up a room. People love her and love to be with her. Dori paints, writes poetry and prose, loves movies and music of all types, enjoys travel, and reads voraciously. “Enthusiasm” describes whatever time we spend together. There is never enough time. While we’re sad when it runs out, we’re always enthusiastic about the next time we’ll be together.
On a Sunday morning over an elegant brunch Dori had prepared, discussing a poem, whatever we were reading, or some idea of importance to both of us at the moment, I proposed that she meet my friends, Harriet and Don. “They’ve experienced the loss of a child, they have a daughter who is a lesbian, and they share your love of literature, art, music, movies, and travel.” Soon after, I arranged a week-end meeting at Harriet and Don’s. The chemistry was perfect and, as I watched it develop over the course of the week-end, I was suffused with gratitude that my intuition had been correct. Gathered in Harriet and Don’s living room to share the poems we’d each selected for the occasion, I recalled seeing on Dori’s patio a piece of crude terra cotta pottery she called “a circle of friends.” It seemed the perfect symbol of the friendship I shared with Harriet and Don and that we now shared with Dori. A few weeks later, an acquaintance returned from a trip to Baja California with several circle of friends candle holders. Coincidence? Synchronicity? I bought two and gave one to Harriet and Don.
By myself at home, when I light my circle of friends candle, I am immediately recalled to “w’ot larx” we’ve enjoyed. Its glow reminds me that the gift of Harriet, Don, and Dori’s friendship not only brightens my life, but, like the terra cotta figures linked in a circular embrace, it binds me to a shared history and grounds my identity. The gift of my circle of friends enriches my life.