How to stay grateful for an eternal friendship

“Gratitude is the sign of noble souls” – Aesop

In recent months, I’ve been reading and purging old journals. I made it to September 2000 where I paused.

In one of the folders, I found notes scribbled on a tiny pad documenting a best friend’s funeral in Edmond, OK.

In the eighth grade, still finding my way around in a new school, I made friends with Caryl and Patty, two beautiful girls who had been best buddies since kindergarten.

We soon became inseparable, supporting each other through the throes of make-up, homecoming, classes, boyfriends, and eventually college, marriage, children, and even divorce.

I moved to Utah, Patty to Oklahoma, and Caryl stayed in Kansas, but we arranged reunions every year, alternating among our three states.

Whenever we got together, we’d talk as if we’d never been separated and, because of Patty’s wacky humor, laugh until we cried. Our friendship felt eternal.

Imagine my shock, then, when Patty’s husband, Yongyut, called to tell me she had committed suicide.

After the funeral, we kept in touch with Yongyut for a while. I worried about Patty’s daughter, Pattya, who seemed almost a carbon copy of her mom, but Pattya moved east to attend school, and we lost all contact.

Twenty years later, after re-reading my all-too detailed notes and talking to Caryl, regret and grief returned for us both. On the 20-year anniversary of Patty’s death, we felt the need for more closure.

Walking has always been one of my ways of working through things, so last Friday I was ready for a hard hike as Ted, Oggie, and I drove to North Long Point on Elk Ridge with Fable Valley as our destination.

I was eager to see the valley because of its name, but the road we traveled became more and more questionable, finally dropping into a giant staircase of rough rocks.

After we bounced down four or five “stairs,” we finally pulled off. The sky was a deep San Juan blue, a relief after the smoke-filled air, and the temperature hot – 95 degrees.

We walked up the road through a pinyon and juniper forest until we came to a trail heading southwest and then hiked along its fading tracks, finally coming to the cliffs overlooking Fable Valley.

Pete Steele, in Steve Allen’s Utah’s Canyon Country Place Names, says, “After you’ve been out on the desert and all of a sudden you come out of the rocks and here’s this beautiful valley. And it’s like coming into a fabled land.”

After we admired the broad, sage-filled basin with juniper and pinyon trees growing up its slopes, Ted and I climbed down the cliff a few benches, hoping to sight Aesop’s Arch, so named in 1959 because, again in Allen’s book, Nell Murgarger says, “I suggested we call it Aesop’s Arch for it seemed to me that the old Greek maker-of-fables should have some recognition in Fable Valley.”

Even though “the old Greek maker-of-fables” has a San Juan arch named after him and hundreds of stories to his credit, scholars are unsure if he actually existed.

In the Aesop Romance, a fictional account, he’s described as an ugly, mute slave relentlessly mocked by others, but after he’s kind to a priestess, she gifts him with speech and storytelling.

By using those talents, he’s granted freedom and becomes an emissary to kings. His tales always end with a poignant, pointed lesson.

One of his most famous is “gratitude is the sign of noble souls,” but I believe Aesop had it backwards – that gratitude helps to refine our souls.

From our high vantage point, Ted and I scanned the valley for Aesop’s Arch, but we didn’t spot it. So we trudged back to the Jeep, grateful for the shade cast by the trees, grateful to take off our packs and slide into the Jeep, and even more grateful when on the third try, with Ted gunning it, our little Patriot Jeep found enough traction to make it up the remaining sandstone humps.

On Labor Day, Caryl called to tell me she had located Pattya, now married and living in Connecticut, and Yongyut, remarried and still living in Oklahoma.

She arranged a video chat with Pattya on Wednesday. Watching Pattya laugh on my tiny screen, seeing her beautiful home, land, and chickens, and hearing about her successful career and marriage healed the old grief, and reconnecting with her daughter seemed, after all, the very best way to honor Patty.

Twenty years ago when I attended Patty’s funeral, Yongyut let me read the note she had left, but I didn’t understand for a long time that she believed taking her life was an act of love, the best thing for her family.

As mistaken as her belief was, I’m grateful for that understanding, grateful for my enduring relationship with Caryl, and grateful for the opportunity to be part of a threesome with vivid memories of sleeping over, eating too many homemade brownies, and laughing until we cried.

I told Caryl when we’re on the other side, in that most beautiful fabled land, we’ll see Patty again just as if we’ve never been separated.

She’ll tell us she’s sorry she made us sad; we’ll tell her we’re sorry we didn’t know she was in such dire straits; and she’ll tell us a wacky story about the angels.

We’ll laugh and cry and hug, a three-way hug, grateful our friendship is eternal.

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