I was visiting the local library of my small town one summer day, seven years ago. Nothing out of the ordinary. But inside I spotted an unfamiliar woman and her family. She was bald. Later I told my husband that I bet she was a homeschooler. There was just something about her and her bald head and men’s khaki shorts and Birkenstocks.
I liked her. I didn’t know her but I liked her. But I was too shy to say much (these days I’d go straight up to her and ask for her life story). I think maybe I at least said hello and then very reluctantly left the building.
My husband took our daughter to a homeschool gym day one Friday that fall; it was a rare thing for him to be there instead of me. Upon his return he told me about a new family that had been at the gym – including a young girl the age of our youngest. Her name was India; such a beautiful name and I knew she must belong to the woman I’d seen at the library.
We connected somehow – I really don’t remember how – and Anno and I became soul sisters. Right away. I think we were both a little leery but also hungry for connection. I think we needed each other. I know that I needed her. I think that happens often in life. Just when you really truly need someone they show up.
If you are open to gifts that may not always appear how you think they will.
We were/are different in a multitude of ways and share some common values and interests. But I think what drew me to Anno was the way she seemed so bold and colorful and strong and definitely not easily squished into any box. A little wild. She represented a liberty that I craved for myself. I had only ever dreamed of shaving my head but she actually did it. Since then she has amazed me at some of the ways in which she has stepped far out of her comfort zone and I love her even more.
Her house felt welcoming and creative but never perfect. There were three then four little people in her life, and animals running around. Crumbs on the floor. Floaters in the toilet sometimes. Always a little loud. She was the only person I’d met who’d install slides for the kids to move from one floor to the next and who’d install swings from the basement rafters. She painted her rooms purple and tore up her front yard to install multiple raised garden boxes. Hung prayer flags, a hope for more kindness and compassion in this world, along her front porch. And maybe, too, I felt a little like I was coming home when I went to her place; I did, after all, grow up in a family bursting at the seams with kids and activity.
But that’s what it feels like to have a sister. Coming home.
I met another of my soul sisters online, via her blog. She is less comfortable than me with the idea of sisterhood (perhaps as she has no biological sisters of her own), but that’s ok. I have claimed her as one of my own. Her writing, so incredibly vulnerable and detailed and inspiring, continues to feed me. But all those years ago it was life and hope as I homeschooled and crafted a home, walked through depression and often felt like a failure. She was/is a strong, creative, articulate, passionate woman housed in a petite, but far from fragile, frame.
Renée brings beauty to the world in part through order and systems and well-honed homemaking skills. But she also goes off on adventures, takes risks and does the deep, hard work of journeying inward. Like me, she is not content to pretend all is well or gloss things over. She needs to talk about it, turn it over, wrestle hard. She is a kindred spirit. She lived in another country when we met and now lives four big provinces away. You might say we have to work for our relationship; we can’t just go for coffee or throw sandals on and head out for long walks together.
Over the years our friendship has deepened and we have enjoyed three hour phone chats and one (soon to be two) in person meetings. Anno, too, moved a province away and we have continued our friendship long distance. But we have made the effort to connect in person once or twice a year, not because we have a lot of money or time, but because sisters are worth it. It would be easy to lament the distance and obstacles in these relationships but I choose to daily give thanks for the gifts.
These women came into my life exactly when I needed them though not in the package I’d have known to mail- order for myself.
There are other women in my life who I care deeply about or those who have come and gone. Each of them a gift in season. My mom and aunties, my biological sisters, my daughters, all helped assemble my red tent. But my soul sisters offer space and permission to be completely real, unmasked, heard. In these relationships we see the cracks and struggle but also delight in each other, cheer each other on, love without judgement. And you know, the only thing I ever really longed for in this world was family. Or connection. Stuff doesn’t feed me. And I do crave affirmation at times and want to feel like I am contributing to the world or my community, but connection is at the root of all my deepest longing.
All those years ago I whispered prayers, I cried in the shower, I ached for deeper connection. And I was sent gifts, soul sisters, in the form of bold, beautiful, artistic women who painted my world with friendship and acceptance. And it was good.
*The pic is of Renée and I, July 2013