Saturday, October 07, 2006

some of my favorite people: a series in potentially infinite parts


i've known pat for over 10 years, and i remember precisely when i met her. julie was teaching junior high at a private school in philadelphia, which had just expanded into a new space, and julie was painting her new room. one of the parents, eileen, was helping; eileen is the sort of person who has exquisite taste and boundless energy, and is constantly repainting her own house. she was acting as interior design consultant to julie, and they had picked out a gorgeous yellow for the walls and a smooth periwinkle blue for the trim. we were all there painting -- was it summer? or on a saturday? anyway, eileen roped her cousin pat to come help; pat's daughter was about to start kindergarten at the school. so my first image of pat is on her knees painting trim.

it started out that eileen was really our friend, and pat just sort of hung out with us sometimes, but at some point the balance of the friendships shifted. we still adore eileen, but really, pat is the one who set up camp in our hearts. she's warm, funny, sexy, smart -- all with just the perfect edge to keep all that wonderfulness from being cloying.

pat is a psychiatric nurse, and she has x-ray vision into the deepest darkest depths of your psyche. in like ten minutes flat, no kidding. i've seen her do it over and over again -- she'll meet a friend of ours, or a member of the family, at a gathering, and spend maybe ten minutes talking to them. the next time we see her, she launches into a full psychiatric evaluation that is spot on. it's occurred to me that having a friend like that could be really intimidating -- i mean, what does she think of me, anyway? but i know she loves me, and she's got one of the biggest, most open, most generous hearts of anyone i know. so even when her insights are a bit brutal, it never feels like she's judging.

pat is part of a big, irish-catholic family, and while i know for a fact that her clan has as much craziness and disfunction as the next family, from my vantage point not-quite-on-the-inside-but-almost (that's the sort of folks they are, especially pat and her cousins, eileen and rose -- no matter how infrequently they see you, they always welcome you into the circle of their family as though you are long-lost kin), i yearn to be part of something just like that. the women are all warm and maternal, but with dry humors and sharp tongues to take any sentimental edge off. their husbands are each in their ways the salt of the earth -- the kind of men who give you faith that maybe the world is going to turn out okay. the kids are all drop-dead gorgeous and the kind of kids you hope yours will grow up to be.

at any gathering of pat and her family you can be sure to be well-fed at a table prepared and arranged with exquisite attention to detail. there will be fresh flowers and linens and good wine, but you will never, ever worry about which fork to use when. there will be toasts that are so funny and thoughtful and perfectly delivered that you will wish you could be the guest of honor some day, to hear folks say such nice things about you. you may worry that you have over-stayed your welcome, but not too much, and you'll stay anyway, because who would ever want to leave?

pat is deeply catholic, down to the marrow in her bones, and is one of just a few catholic friends who have made the struggle to keep being catholic make perfect sense to me. and it is a struggle. i always attend easter vigil with pat at the very progressive catholic church in my neighborhood (it's a gorgeous liturgy). last spring she and a bunch of other women staged a protest about women's ordination; more recently pat attended the ordination of several women priests, one of whom is a friend of hers. our shared faith is one of my favorite things to talk about with pat; i always come away feeling spiritually fed.

pat struggles with demons, as we all do, and while i'm not sure of the all the details, i suspect pat's demons are of the uglier-than-average sort. i sometimes worry, when we fall out of touch for months at a time that she's having a rough patch, and that i'm not being as good a friend as i should. pat is a caretaker extrordinare, someone for whom i'm sure it's hard to ask for help. it's so easy -- blissfully easy -- to let her take care of me; it's harder to know how to return the favor. it's something i mean to be more mindful of.

pat is one of my favorite people indeed. if she weren't happily married to a really wonderful man, and if i weren't happily married to a really wonderful woman, pat would definitely be on my short list of folks to fall in love with.


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