“Your friends are so nice, Mom.” The words alone sounded like a compliment, but the tone from my teenage son definitely gave it a different meaning.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked. We sat beside each other on the first bench seat of my parents’ van, my parents in the front while my daughter and husband relaxed in the back. Late afternoon sunlight filled the car, as Dad drove along a two lane mountain road back to their house. A pleasant afternoon had been spent at the 50th anniversary reception for my oldest friend’s parents. The little church fellowship hall overflowed with food, pictures, family and well-wishers. My kids regularly see my dear friend, Sandra, and her family, but other childhood friends were present as well. These now middle-aged women were excited to meet my two teens, hear about their joys and dreams in life, and retell old stories for their entertainment.
“Well, mom, I mean, they were just really sweet. It’s kinda hard to imagine those were your best friends growing up.”
“Thanks for the compliment, buddy.” I responded with a fair amount of sarcasm.
“Hey, don’t pick on my little girl,” my own mother chimed in with a laugh. “She’s very nice, too.”
“Mom, you know what I mean,” Caleb added quickly. “It’s just – you know – they are really nice.”
“And I’m not?” I bestowed a look that dared him to contradict me.
“That’s not what I mean. But you know you can be critical.”
“They haven’t been raising you, buddy.” The rest of the car’s inhabitants joined in the humor, as my poor boy smirked with chagrin. “I know. I’m not as nice as they are. I can’t really explain why they wanted to be my friends – why we were all so close.”
“Now, Amy,” Mom added. “You are as nice as they are. I just didn’t go around telling your faults to other people.”
“Well, thanks for that, Mom.” I grinned, as Caleb continued to defend himself. In the weeks that followed that day, and in reflection on my son’s comments, I have pondered how I grew up with a very nice bunch of girls – girls who always had kind words for others, who never saw the bad in someone else, who worked hard, who loved their families, girls who were loyal and true friends. I realize my own family of origin modeled this for me. It didn’t mean we were blind to the faults of others. But it did mean that we showed grace and kindness in the face of others’ faults, because none of us were perfect. I thought about how great my friends looked physically – in the midst of their 40s – and realized that harsh lines of judgment, envy, and hate had not marked their features. I examined my own face in the mirror and yet could not be certain if those lines were there or not. I always knew they were nicer than I – as my son so obviously exposed to the rest of the family – but did it show on my face as it did on theirs?
Those girls taught me a lot when we were little – more things than I can remember. And these wonderful women still are teaching me. They teach me and remind me each day that living a life of grace, compassion and forgiveness is the best way to truly live.