For Jodi

Too much time has passed and we’re going to let go of the I wish I would’ves and the I’m so sorry and the I’m not sure how it happened, because we weren’t supposed to lose touch, and we’re going to pick up at the truth that once best friends, always best friends.

I sent these sentiments to her when I heard of her mom’s cancer. And we picked up, as though 20 years and career goals and children and death really hadn’t happened without one another.

We hugged after too many years and the truth stirred in my soul. She’s the best friend who was there when I couldn’t decide what college to attend and I thought no boy would ever want to date me. She was the best friend who was there when we flew across the lake on jet skis and met after school at her Geo Tracker (the red one with the black top) and ate pizza too late after the Friday night games. She was the best friend who I offered quiet strength when the mean girls locked their sights on her. Vacations in Florida and never enough sleep overs and you-have-to-buy-that-skirt all became anchors twenty years later when we both needed a best friend.

Once best friends, always best friends.

We live on opposite sides of the country. From the outside, we may seem like an unlikely duo. She pursuing an acting career from NYC to LA. Me, teaching in a small town in the Midwest just miles from the lake where we spent our summers.

We visited, in her parents’ kitchen — she and I and her sweet momma. We talked about the whirl of life — our careers and the unexpected twists. Her gig with Disney Channel, my books. We shared stories of agents and editors. We were tethered by the unspoken understanding between two hearts who have experienced deep loss and grief.

The stories flowed and the minutes ticked and I realized I never really lost my best friend. The years didn’t bury us. The years didn’t separate us. Our paths were more closely linked than I could imagine. We stayed in touch.

She lost her mom this week to cancer.

Days later, we sat in her parents’ house, surrounded by a lifetime of pictures stuck fast to foam boards. The ground was familiar, the same location I visited for the past 20 years, but the emotions were all wrong. I sat behind her computer screen, trying to make the words right for an obituary that isn’t supposed to be written. I listened to her stories. I told some of my own. We smiled, remembering the playful spirit of her mom, and then, like a cruel switch, the laughter turned to tears.  

She was hesitant when she said, “I need some help writing something for the pastor to read from me at the funeral. I’m not a writer, but I have this.”

She placed the notebook on the table. It was thick and beautiful. An ornate cover on a notebook the size of my hand. “Maybe you can read it and help me?”

I looked up at her. “This is your notebook?” I asked.

She nodded, tears brimming on the lids of her eyes. “Mom gave me it to me and asked me to start writing in it. I have been. I think there might be something here to say on Saturday, but I just don’t know.”

She trusted me with her notebook. It is not a slight gift. The tears slid quietly down my cheeks. “It would be a privilege to help you.”

Our time was short. I wouldn’t take her notebook. “I can snap some pictures of the pages you think say what you want.”

“None of it says what I want,” she said. She opened the notebook and flipped to the words she wrote earlier. “Here is probably where you should start. When I wrote this, I didn’t think anyone would ever read it. I’m embarrassed.”

I touched the smooth pages covered with the same handwriting I remembered from high school. “Jodi, this is a gift. These pages…you sharing them with me…it’s a gift. I’m glad you wrote.”

That night, I read her handwritten words.

She documented the location, time, and date of her mom’s passing.
She scribbled some scripture.

And then she did the most remarkable thing.

She counted the gifts. Number 267 through 278. Her soul was swallowed in sadness and Jodi found the celebrations. Not just one celebration, but twelve celebrations. One after another, she found something to celebrate.

She reminds me to love more. She is a bold testimony to the truth of scripture — the joy of the Lord is my strength (Nehemiah 8:10). In the midst of loss, she chooses to celebrate.

There is power in this kind of gritty joy.

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  1. These are the moments when it is more important than ever to find the joy–gritty joy, how i love those words. I've been having to find my own gritty joy lately, so thank you for these words…

  2. These are the moments when it is more important than ever to find the joy–gritty joy, how i love those words. I've been having to find my own gritty joy lately, so thank you for these words…

  3. I'm sorry for your friend's loss, yet it has brought you two together in a most wonderful way, Ruth. There has always been something connected, hasn't there, that joy of celebration even in the midst of tough times.

  4. I love the re-discovered happiness, even when hearts are heavy–maybe especially when– grace is at work. I loved how you wrote about the gift of her notebook–made me cry. My condolences to your friend Jodi.

  5. I am thankful for God's timing. The way you were reunited, spent time reconnecting, and thus being there to share your gift in a special day of remembering. Once again a reminder of how our written word captures life's big and small moments.

  6. What a smart, bold friend you have. I've been reading Nehemiah since I read this on Friday. He too, was bold to speak out, and proclaimed joy when everyone around him was disheartened. I celebrate your friendship and Gritty Joy. Thank you for sharing.

  7. Ruth, your words always strike a cord with me. I found out that one of my longtime friends passed on while i was at NCTE 15 and today friends gathered together at the wake to celebrate memories. Gritty joy-great term.
    I am so happy that I was able to meet up with you this weekend.

  8. The depth of friendship show in many ways, not the least of which is handing someone the words you penned only for yourself and trusting them with all the thoughts, feelings, and imperfections of life wrapped up in the words.