New Friends

Some birthdays are tougher than others—especially without the people you're closest with.

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- Posted on Dec 15, 2008

I was about to turn 40, and I was dreading it. Not just because of all the baggage that goes with that dubious milestone, but because Michael and I had lived in our new town only for a few months. It wouldn't be so bad if I had my real friends around me, I sulked. I didn't feel a part of things here. At our new church, around our neighborhood and at the school our kids attended, everyone else seemed to belong. I didn't fit in; I would never build the rich friendships I'd left behind in Chattanooga.

One morning, Marie, a neighbor, asked me, "Can you come to a surprise birthday lunch next week for Ann?"

I hesitated. I didn't really know Ann. Then again, I didn't really know anyone here. It seemed easier to say yes to Marie than no.

I gave it no more thought until the morning of the lunch, when suddenly I realized I didn't have a gift. I had no idea what Ann might want, so I hastily whipped up a batch of blueberry muffins, shoved them in a bag with a green bow and set out for the unfamiliar restaurant, my hair still damp from the shower. I was embarrassed that I was running late, and in the car I thought, If these were old friends, I wouldn't feel so uptight.

I slid some coins into a parking meter and hurried inside only to find myself speechless before the hostess. I didn't know Ann's last name! "Have some women shown up for a surprise party for Ann...Ann something?" The young woman double-checked her list.

"No, no one by the name Ann," she said.

Now what? Had I got the time wrong? The day? The restaurant? The hostess must have sensed my confusion because suddenly she smiled sweetly and took my arm. "Come with me," she said.

I followed. Then, as we turned a corner, I froze. There at a big round table sat Marie and some women from my church prayer group. In the middle was a homemade chocolate cake with pink frosted roses and "Happy Birthday, B. J." emblazoned on it. "Surprise!" they chorused.

A slow smile spread across my face. Marie handed her camera to a waitress who snapped a picture of us. In that brief instant as the flash went off, I was filled with a gentle warmth. And I thought, Don't all old friends start out as new?

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