New Jersey gets a bad rap. I know that because I spent most of my growing and adult years in the state named for its gardens but known for its highways. It’s the state where I raised my children, the state where I learned to drive, learned to cook (well, sort of), and learned the love of writing. So it’s fitting, to me, that it’s the state where I was reminded, this past weekend, of the special power in the love of friends.
I just returned from my first-ever conference devoted to romance writing. Sponsored by the New Jersey chapter of Romance Writers of America, the annual conference brings together writers as distant as Canada and the Virgin Islands to meet and attend workshops led by those who have experiences and skills to share. So for three days every October, the conference hotel is overrun by (mostly) women carrying bags of each other’s freebies, chatting about and sharing what they learned and what they dream, discussing the industry and where it’s headed, and, most importantly (to me), renewing friendships and making new friends.
Seeing the lobby full of women hanging out and catching up got me thinking about friendship, about how lucky I’ve been throughout my life to have made supportive and loving friends who have shared my fears and joys and enriched my life in so many ways. I’ve been blessed over and over with treasured relationships that are so much a part of me, their names and faces are rarely far from my mind. Some are in Florida, some in Texas and the Midwest, and some right there in Jersey where we lived until about four years ago.
When my husband and I moved from Jersey, I knew it would be hard, but I counted on our ability to keep in touch through the wonders of e-mail, Facebook and video chats. And we have, but it’s not the same. We all know that. As wonderful as the new technology is, it can’t take the place of those face-to-face meetings, the long walks in the morning or late at night, the family barbeques and New Year’s Eve parties, and the shared cups of coffee after church. And that’s what I miss most. So I used the Jersey writers’ conference as a chance to fill my depleting cup of “friend time” back to the brim.
Armed with a few extra days off from work, I planned time with those Jersey friends, and I’m so glad I did. It was wonderful seeing again the people who have helped me and my husband through some of the toughest days of our marriage and who have shared some of our greatest joys. But it wasn’t enough, and now here I am, after the long weekend, back in Virginia, reminded once again of all that I left behind when we packed up our belongings and headed south on I-95.
Oh, I joke on Facebook about missing real bread and pizza, about missing people who pronounce “ricotta” as ri-got—and the ability to find decent ri-got in the stores. Sometimes I tire of southern drivers’ patience on the roadways and wish they could find just a little bit of New Jerseyans’ fill-the-gap impatience. (There are times I have to contain the screams in my head for the southern driver in front of me who will neither keep up to traffic nor move out of my way. But that’s whole other blog topic.)
But if I could turn back the clock, I’d think a little bit harder about what it would mean to leave those friends I’ve made in the state. How it would feel to know that finances dictate when and where I can see them, and that I’d have to use the excuse of a writers’ conference to make that trip. (On another side note, I’m now researching must-attend conferences in Florida and Texas.) I would probably still choose to move—another decision dictated by finances—but maybe I’d have been a little more prepared for how hard it would be to live without those day-to-day contacts that, to me, form the meaning of life.
So thank you, New Jersey (and NJRW), for reminding me of the value of fellowship within a community. Thank you for reminding me of the importance of stretching our imaginations and reaching for our dreams. But thank you, most of all, for giving me the opportunity to recharge my friend “battery.” I needed it.