Many Meanings of Friendship
By Susan Nichols, former Loretto Volunteer
Those who surround the Community know that Loretto houses are filled with furniture, knickknacks and art passed around the sisters and co-members. Our Volunteer House, Tobin House in Maplewood, Mo., held more than a few of these, but it was a simply framed photo of the house’s namesake Mary Luke Tobin that caught my attention. Cecily Jones, a close friend of Luke, had taken the photo off her wall and sent it to the house when she learned it would be named for Luke. While at first my love for the photo and story came from an appreciation of Cecily’s generosity, as I grew in my own Loretto friendships I began to feel a familiarity with the closeness between Cecily and Luke. I was becoming bound to Loretto through close ties of friendship that help me to understand the wider Loretto Community and teach me lessons on the value of friendships throughout the duration of my life.
It was fellow Volunteer Jackie Schmitz with whom I had the immense luck of sharing a home this past year and who brought me into a deeper awareness of what friendship means. Jackie’s former executive director once remarked, “It would be a loss for the entire state of Missouri if Jackie were to leave.” By all accounts she is correct. Jackie’s love of others, passion for demystifying politics so that all can be involved and her adventurous spirit would be incredibly missed in the state. Throughout our year as Volunteers, we became a united front to deal with sexism in our offices, tackle grocery lists, learn to dance and reckon with our place of privilege and what we were going to do in response to it. We learned to be patient with each other as we muddled through the quirks of being human. And while our friendship is as lovely as it is affectionate, it is also young. It is through witnessing other friendships in the Community of all ages and hearing stories such as those of Luke and Cecily that I am encouraged by the many years of growth we have ahead of us.
Drawn together by their passion for the anti-war movement, transforming the governance systems of women religious and great interest in good writing, Cecily and Luke lived and created community together for many years. I imagine they struggled with many of the problems Jackie and I did and many of the joys just the same. When asked about how she remembered them together, JoAnn Gates told me, “It seemed to me that there was not competition between them — Cecily was totally Cecily, and Luke was totally Luke.” These women knew that honoring a friendship takes love, generosity, work and the courage to face change as they aged. It is in this example, and the many others I see throughout the Loretto Community, that I trust Jackie’s and my young friendship will be held and nurtured so we can continue to be generous in similar ways.
We have been running for the past days, preparing to move. No longer will I come home to your smiles and laughter, or hugs of comfort. Our joyfulness crushes mountains of despair, allowing me to speak free and easy with a boldness I didn’t yet know.
But for now it’s too fast and all business — Did you water that plant? Where did we put that chair? — as we determinedly keep change away. It’s the commitment we’ve made to ourselves and others — we will not yield to sadness yet.
Late that evening, after dancing and drinking, we return home for almost the last time. My body sinks into your floor with the weight of tiredness. And it is here, in the silence, left after all the words have gone, that I get to know what a delight it is to be near you.