Barbara and Shane two months ago celebrating my birthday with me in New Orleans
My friend Barbara turns fifty today. I just now arrived home after a long drive from Hickory, last night's party spot. Her husband Shane and her mother Joan threw the party for her, inviting her best friends since childhood along with the friends she's made only in the last four or five years or so (I fall somewhere in the middle, having known her for the past 12 years). Barbara was, predictably, radiant, a quality only partly attributable to her physical beauty.
Everybody there said the same thing; some said it more than once: she doesn't look fifty. She doesn't. I'm hard pressed to say how old I would guess she is, if I didn't know, and my best estimate would be thirty. I might even say "at most thirty."
But the thing that stands out the most to me about last night--besides the cute dark-haired busboy clearing away highball glasses and crumpled napkins, or the sexy punk metalhead cabbie with tats and spiked collar and wrist bands who drove my friend Ann and me to and from the party venue--was Shane's toast to her. Barbara, he said, besides the obvious attribute of her beauty, puts her heart and soul into whatever enters the sphere of her life. (I'm always blown away by how spectacularly ardent Shane's love for Barbara is. The man is all but dumbstruck with amazement over her.)
I can speak a little bit to her heart and soul. I had known her for just over three years when my father died--the day after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Barbara took a couple of days off work to go with me down to Augusta, Georgia, to take care of the disposal of his body and a few of his personal effects. Barbara did the lion's share of the work and all the organizing--packing away loads of junk and acting as host to about a dozen people, all strangers to me, who had been my father's friends and wanted to gather with me to express their condolences. Barbara took it all on.
Of all my friends, and I have more than I have earned, Barbara made perhaps the biggest effort to know and understand me. She has carefully avoided affronts to my ego and encouraged my confidence in my eccentric capabilities and values. She has helped me out in times of need and amused me in times of celebration. She is a free, vivacious, and generous spirit, incapable of walking away from a dare or a challenge, capable of delight and ferocity you would not believe.
Almost twelve years ago, when I first met her, I was not sufficiently impressed. There were extenuating circumstances involved, but largely I took her to be a new-age-y bohemian with a mania for being politically correct. I misjudged her ... by miles. At first I could not see what a great spirit she is--of anyone I know or have known she is the most genuinely and radically human. She has a tenacious grip on life and the pleasure principle. She has balls the size of Volkswagens. The most amazing dancer, the best laugher, the least inhibited about physical expressions of affection--three of my highest superlatives belong to her--with no close seconds in sight.
Of all the projects she has put her heart and soul into in the last fifty years, I feel undeservedly lucky to have been one.