The number of states.
A failing grade.
The rarely circulated cent piece I used often in my youth to pay the Ice Cream Man.
The percentage of effort when you are doing something half-assed. (Apparently 100 is assed).
Fifty is an interesting number. It can mean good things. It can mean bad things. It seems huge when you are talking about voice mails, but tiny when you are talking about credit scores.
It seems small when you are 80 years old, I presume. But it seems big when you are 49.
Today, my best friend is 50.
On September 4, 1967, an obstetrician in Portsmouth, Virginia headed to a local hospital to deliver a baby, whose was named Paige Lynette Hall.
Though we lived in the same town, we did not formally meet until 10th grade typing class. Her seat was next to mine and I never had any typing paper. Thus, a great friendship began.
We traversed the halls of Western Branch High School like most of our peers, with some drama and some dating nightmares and some huge laughs. Lots of huge laughs. She made nice with my high school boyfriend, (tried to) teach me to play tennis, and stuck by me even though I was seldom around on weekends due to my swimming habit. Even now, when we see a mutual high school friend and they discuss some fun/crazy/bizarre episode from those days, and I ask her why I don’t recall any of it, she says, “You were swimming.”
She was there when I had quite a rough patch after my freshman year in college, and we introduced our intendeds to each other with greater forethought that when we introduced them to our parents.
We’ve celebrated two marriages (one each–still married!), four children, and numerous vacation experiences. She’s survived cancer (all clear!) and we’ve both survived other events that remain unwritten here. She was beside me this year when I navigated the shocking revelation that my biological father was someone other than I thought. We have been there for each other, she more than I, I’d say, but then that’s how you always describe your best friend—in better terms than you would yourself.
Malcolm Gladwell, journalist, speaker and author of amazing books like The Tipping Point and Outliers, covered a fascinating friendship, in a recent episode of his podcast Revisionist History, between Winston Churchill and Frederick Lindemann. Weaved in his storytelling, Gladwell discusses the phenomenon of transactive memory. It turns out, we actually store data in the minds of people we love, not just in our own minds. When people are in a close relationship, they subconsciously learn over time which person is capable of storing which types of data. Gladwell gives an example from a spousal relationship: “I don’t need to remember my daughter’s emotional attachment to a teacher, because my wife remembers it.” As Gladwell says, “Little bits of ourselves reside in other people’s minds.”
In the case of Churchill and Lindemann, Churchill was a big-picture guy who was inconsistent and lacked the ability to bring order to his life. Lindemann was balanced, steadfast and disciplined, and served as the gatekeeper to Churchill’s mind. So very different in some ways, both men thought most highly of the other; each stated that the other was one of the two smartest men in the world (Einstein being one). Each presumed the other was appropriate company for Einstein, but not himself.
I do not believe Paige and I are comparable to these men. In the words of Jane Austen, we deserve neither such praise nor such censure: we surely aren’t as intelligent, storied or influential as they were; nor do our joint efforts, I hope, cause as much turmoil (listen to the podcast to hear how their very unique friendship wrought tragedy). However, Churchill and Lindemann were puzzle pieces that naturally and uniquely fit together. They complemented each other in personality. If that complementarian relationship is wisely leveraged, it is a beautiful thing.
I don’t need to recall the details of high school events and relationships, because Paige will.
I don’t need to keep track of the meals we prepare every year on vacation, because Paige will (indeed, she will send me a menu and practically a shopping list).
I don’t need to learn what paint color should go on my walls, because Paige will.
I don’t need to remember to bring paper to typing class, because Paige will.
Great friendship is a great gift. C.S. Lewis lamented the lost art of friendship. He wrote extensively in The Four Loves about the different kinds of love, and asserted that philia, or friendship, was gravely underappreciated. It is the least organic kind of love. There is no overriding social pressure to love a friend, unlike a spouse or a child; it is possible to end a friendship more easily than a romantic or family relationship. Friendship can be easily broken without cultural norms pointing out your wrongdoing. It is freely chosen and freely maintained over time. In that respect, it is uniquely powerful; you must really want it in order to maintain it.
And so, on this 50th anniversary of Paige’s birth, I give her the gift, for once, of publicly sharing her birthday with mine.
I do not like to publicize my birthday. Why? In short, I’m grumpy. I don’t want to respond to “Happy Birthday!” over and over again. I’d prefer it not be recognized, much in the same way I dislike Mothers’ Day. But today, I make an exception.
Fifty years ago, I was born on September 4, 1967, a few hours before my best friend in the same town. For her part, she graciously does not wish me a happy birthday on social media every year because she knows I hate responding to it. So each year, I wish her happy birthday on Facebook, and laugh knowing that I get the present of not responding in kind to well-wishers. I even attended her 40th birthday party without ever having to reveal it was my birthday too. What a great gift. I now return it. You don’t have to weather this birthday alone.
I am eternally grateful to my biological father, whose identity I learned about a year ago, for bringing my best friend into this world. Fifty years ago today, Dr. Jose Vidarte delivered Paige at Portsmouth General Hospital a few hours after I was born at Maryview Hospital.
I do not think 50 years is such a big number now. In writing this, I realize there are so many more years that I want to spend with her.
How about it, Paige–another 50?