Monday Author: Susanne Skinner
We are family
I got all my sisters with me
Sister Sledge l “We are Family”
I have sisters, but I also have sisters. There is a difference.
This week I am in Myrtle Beach South Carolina at our bi-annual High School reunion, celebrating with my oldest and dearest women friends – the sisters of my heart. We have been friends since we met in high school over forty years ago. Time and distance have separated us but we remain connected by ties so strong and complex that they are difficult to put into words.
We share common bonds so deep and tightly wound they are unbreakable. These women rank as high on the importance scale as my husband and children, with just as much passion and pain. We are family.
We think each other’s thoughts, finish each other’s sentences and support one another fiercely and lovingly through whatever life hands us. No matter how much time passes between visits we are able to pick up where we left off. To say our relationship is complicated would underestimate it. We are experts at being there for each other. These friendships have sustained me when everyone and everything else has failed.
Our journey together began when we were teen-agers, awkward fifteen-year-olds thrown together in a foreign country as a result of our dads’ military assignment to S.H.A.P.E. (Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe) Belgium. There would be 55 American students in my graduating class. We agree this was our only common ground and it was enough to draw us together. We were isolated from the U.S. and the media that portrayed how teenagers should look and act. We had no barometer for the way things were supposed to be.
Friendships like ours are uncommon. We did not grow up near one another; we had no family ties, shared history or common interests to pull us into a like-minded group. Apart from the day we found ourselves halfway across the world from our comfort zones, we had absolutely nothing to form the connection we share.
Our only collective experience was wondering how to navigate the labyrinth of a new high school in a foreign country with students from seventeen different nations. We had no way of knowing this experience would shape who we would become. Although I did not realize it at the time, these women were my role models.
Entering adulthood is unbelievably hard. Teenage years are rife with anxiety, identity crises and self-doubt. These feelings are magnified when you are isolated in an unfamiliar environment. We created our own comfort zone with a disparate group of girls sharing an unspoken fear of non-acceptance. We began by accepting each other.
Sisters of the Heart
So how does an unlikely group of girls like us become not only friends, but sisters of the heart? Today we are women with children and grandchildren of our own but have spent the past three days reflecting on the journey we have shared; looking for words that describe what we feel.
We begin where our journey began, with the word acceptance. We met and accepted each other just as we were, six girls filled with uncertainty; wondering if anyone would like us or want to eat lunch with us. Without realizing it, we created a level playing field and the start of a life-long friendship.
It did not matter who we were or where we had been before we met. We had to begin again with nothing but the space between us; without the familiarity of a U.S. based life. We were forced to find a new normal.
These are the women who nurture my soul. Here is a universal truth: friendships between women are often the most passionate and meaningful love affairs we will ever know. Women’s friendships outlast boyfriends, marriages and jobs. They share the unimaginable and although they may struggle and even falter, they rarely fail. This is where our strength comes from.
As a group of forever friends we agree that we were able to overlook the cultural expectations of who we should be. That is simply not possible for teenagers today. In our acceptance of one another all those years ago we never felt the need to be competitive. We have celebrated the person each of us has been through every stage of our lives.
My SHAPE sisters and I admit to being strong women. We grew into ourselves, not afraid to challenge established norms. We have never been complacent and when I look around the room I see successful women. Not because we are rich and famous, because we are neither. It’s because we have remained true to who we are, with a network of unbreakable support to remind us how important this is.
We shared far more than we realized back then; a strong work ethic, a sense of right and wrong, a sense of ourselves, and the belief that anything was possible. We have all known failure and heartbreak but we make each other laugh and have a foundation of unconditional love that carries us through the dark places. We understand each other without speaking a word.
To my sisters of the heart: Jan, Missy, Suzie, Linda C and Linda G; you are the family I got to choose for myself. The fabric of my life is richer, happier and healthier because you are woven into every strand.
i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)