This Thanksgiving is dedicated to Laura

My friend Laura and I go out for wine or beer before our Toastmasters meetings on Thursdays, because if I have to talk in front of others, it’s in the best interest of the audience that I have a glass of something. I don’t have any feelings about Toastmasters one way or the other, but I joined in an act of solidarity with my friend. She wanted to pursue public speaking excellence; my speaking goals were a little more rudimentary (ie, don’t barf or pass out). Toastmasters was a way for Laura and I to stay in contact after she left her job at the dealership, where we had worked together for 9 years.

Looking back, I cannot say for sure when Laura and I went from being co-workers to being friends. While not my immediate supervisor, she definitely ranked above me at the dealership and was not afraid to call me out on my decisions, or support me in my challenges. A mutual trust built over the years, which blossomed into small outings such as lunch or drinks. I suspect the turning point was when she began to build her dream house.

Shortly after the floor plans were drawn, she invited me to be a witness to her home-building adventures. I saw architectural schematics, toured skeletal beginnings, helped with paint color decisions, and walked through landscaping progress reports. I listened to Laura with rapt fascination, not because I cared about the house per se, but because I found her enthusiasm to be vicariously intoxicating. Laura’s entire face would light up when describing what others would consider mundane construction issues. I delighted in listening to all of it.

The coolest part about the project was how much she deserved this dream home. She had saved and sacrificed her entire life to be able to afford it. One Christmas she even made her husband return a piece of jewelry he bought her, because it was too expensive. She was frugal, savvy and conservative: in other words, she was the complete opposite of me. Delayed gratification and saving were hallmarks of her existence, and I didn’t even have those words in my vocabulary.

The final product was a sight to behold. It was beautiful and smart, open and airy, natural and elegant. The home was made for entertaining, and Laura was happy to find opportunities to do so. When my sister wanted to throw me and Kev an engagement party, Laura agreed to co-host it and welcomed all our guests into her dream home.

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Laura is in the white sweater behind me and Kev. Also in this photo are many friends from the book club Laura and I attend together. The night of this party, I coerced many of these people to  be interviewed in front of a video camera, telling stories about me and Kevin, as well as offering advice for our upcoming union. In this video, Laura tells the story of the day she and I jumped out of an airplane, a mutual goal made more memorable because we experienced it together.

Although Laura’s house has been a dream come true for her, her dream vacation did not turn out as well. Laura had long wished to travel to Ireland, and planned it for months. With her normally meticulous approach, she mapped out the detailed itinerary that she and her husband Gene would enjoy for two weeks. At first, it looked like the vacation was all she had imagined- we were seeing zip line photos on her Facebook page, and hearing of Irish pub adventures. Then suddenly the trip turned into a nightmare, as she faced a medical crisis in a countryside ill-equipped to respond. An emergency surgery stabilized her enough to get home, where doctors would open her up and find that much damage had been done. It would take Laura many months and multiple hospital visits to recover, often veering into serious territory.

Throughout her medical ordeal, I observed Laura’s tremendous grace under pressure. Despite her scary predicaments and physical discomfort, she remained upbeat and outgoing. She pushed herself to heal, shared her story with brutal candor and not a hint on whining or embarrassment. I found even more admiration for my friend during these months, wondering if I could endure the same situation with half her grace. I was grateful to be a witness to that much character, and honored to call her my friend.

Laura joked that she spent every holiday in the hospital- Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day. Now that she is finally healing for good and her last surgery is behind her, it seems fitting that we approach her first healthy holiday in six months: Thanksgiving. Although in many ways Laura and I are quite different, in her I have a kindred spirit who enjoys a sense of adventure, a passion for learning new things and of course, someone who understands the value of a little drink before a speech. Now that’s something to be thankful for.

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