“When Manuela arrives, my loge is transformed into a palace, and a picnic between two pariahs becomes the feast of two monarchs. Like a storyteller transforming life into a shimmering river where trouble and boredom vanish far below the water, Manuela metamorphoses our existence into a warm and joyful epic.” –The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Muriel Barbery
This morning I checked the mail, and inside amongst the ads and bills I found a tiny treasure just for me – a hand-written card from Monica. My dear, life-long friend Monica. The card was brief, just a jot to tell me she was in Chicago visiting another beloved friend Laura, and that she was pausing for a moment in a cafe’ to tell me, in her own words, how much she enjoyed reading the little red blog.
It was a sweet, simple gesture that made me smile. The front of the card was simple, too. It read: “to affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of the arts.” – Henry David Thoreau.
As I have always admired Monica’s intellectual prowess, this quote was quite a compliment! Throughout our school years together, Monica was placed in separate classes from me as she was ‘gifted’. I was often tested for the gifted program, but routinely found to be ‘main-stream’. No worries, though. Monica and I enjoyed each other’s company, and we met up at lunch, in dance class, or in one or another’s homes. We both were voracious readers. Monica’s favorite subject, even in fifth grade, was Thomas Jefferson. I had no idea who he was. I’d browse her bookshelf, mystified by ‘Ben Franklin of Old Philadelphia’ or ‘John Adams Speaks for Freedom’. Who are all these boring, dead men? I’d wonder. I read Judy Blume and Danielle Steele. She read ‘Heroes of the American Revolution’. On our first meeting ever, at a piano recital, the teacher begged each student to curtsy when they were finished playing. I had no idea how to curtsy. My guess was to bend over at the waist in a bow. Monica, in a home-made billowing dress, easily dipped her knee to the floor while tipping her head graciously low. She and her sister made a picture of such tender elegance, curtsying in unison, that my mom later told me, “I felt like a failure as a mother after witnessing those two girls!” It was as if Monica had grown up in Buckingham Palace, while I was raised in the seedy suburb of Clairemont, California.
Now, some thirty years down the road, for the symbolic queen bee of my childhood hive to curtsy to me, tell me that she enjoyed reading what I wrote – well! “La, Dee, Dah!” I cheered inwardly.
But more than Monica’s vote of confidence, I was touched by the simple token of friendship. Nowadays a hand-written letter among friends is a rare thing indeed. Monica works at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C., but travels extensively, and as such I have soundbites from her galloping her way through the wildest parts of the world. (All the thumbtacks on the world map hanging in her office highlight where she’s visited). I’ve had postcards delivered from a hut in Mongolia. A letter written in the moonlight on a boat moored off the coast of the Galapagos Islands. I’ve seen photos of her scaling the steps of Machu Picchu and traversing the wilds of Tanzania. I’ve kissed the Blarney Stone with Monica by my side, and dipped into her chosen entrée of Wild Boar Gnocchi at a posh restaurant in Vancouver, B.C. Whether I’m with her in person or spirit, Monica’s given me a ‘First-Class’ view of life, and it is an awesome improvement from Coach, most certainly.
Now, as I walk home from school with my girls, I clutch the little letter in my hand. My girls don’t ask about it. They are too busy telling me about their new class pet – a cage full of caterpillars. Their science theme is The Life Cycle and they are both eagerly awaiting the day their caterpillars morph into butterflies. Then they’ll set them free. As we walk and talk, I notice birds building nests frantically. The afternoons are staying lighter, longer. The world is morphing right before our eyes, I think.
And Monica, my friend who’s always transformed my life “…into a shimmering river where trouble and boredom vanish far below the water…” sent a little letter that changed the quality of my day.