Jane died before I said “good-bye.” I wanted to remind her of how we met and our friendship’s special significance. Jane and I were not friends in the deeply devoted sense that Jane and Annie were friends. We were acquaintances who connected and who were strengthened by our presence in each other’s life.
I met Jane at a workshop for small group leaders as a part of the small group ministry at all Saints Church. Jane and I were selected to participate in a group as a way of demonstrating how the small group dynamic works. Eight of us sat on chairs in a circle on the floor of the Forum room, rather like goldfish in a fishbowl while the other workshop participants looked on. Karen Holmes, a lovely woman with a rather stern presence facilitated the group. Each member of the group was to make some comment about the state of their life at that moment or to acknowledge a feeling—it could be anything that was important at that instant.
I don’t recall what I said or what anyone else except Jane said. As the group members spoke, each in turn, I listened then went on to the next. “I’m going through a divorce,” Jane said. “It’s upsetting. Not only emotionally, but physically. My husband won’t talk to me. We have to sell our home. I have to move. We’re down to dividing the spoils. Going through the LPs to decide who gets what.”
A moment of silence and on to the next person. Having made the circuit, Karen attempted to draw the group into some sort of discussion or reaction.
“Excuse me, please,” I said. “But I want to go back to Jane. Jane, I heard what you said about your divorce. It must be very painful for you. I’ve gone through that process and I know how painful it was for me.”
Jane acknowledged that it was painful, and we exchanged some conversation about dealing with the pain. I mentioned a book I found helpful in getting me through my misery.
The group activity continued for whatever period was intended at which point Rick Thyne and Linda Lewis came down to comment on the interaction that had taken place. They were particularly pleased at the exchange between Jane and me as it exemplified what small group interaction is intended to accomplish: give participants a neutral space in which membership is unconditional, where they can be heard and not judged.
Jane and I connected. Following the workshop, I spoke with Jane and she thanked me for hearing her. I told her I would bring her a copy of the book I mentioned, and we agreed that we would meet each other at church on Sunday.
Some weeks after giving Jane the book, she told me it had been helpful and that she passed it on to her ex-husband.
“I’m having a dinner party for my new friends and I’d like John and you to come.”
What was special about the dinner party was Jane. She had gathered a group of 10-12 people—all from All Saints. The evening was spent in pleasant conversation and the enjoyment of each other’s company. As we were all beginning to leave, Jane gathered everyone into the living room where she had us join hands in a circle.
“I want to welcome my new friends to my new life,” Jane said. “Thank you all for coming.”