The other night, I had dinner on my friend's terrace in the dusk of Lisbon's sun setting over the river. Her cousin had been visiting for weeks and was returning to the US the next day, and we were (safely!) gathering outdoors to wish her well on her travels and her next chapter. We each went around the table and offered her a toast - most folks giving her advice, sending her off with a phrase to live by for the next stretch of time, a lesson they learned from their own twenties that they wanted to pass along.
When it came to my turn, I wasn't quite sure what to say, so I decided to just speak from the heart.
"You know that phrase you always say about yourself?" I asked her, refer to a snappy one-liner she had about her personality.
"Yes...." she replied hesitantly.
"Well, I love it, it's great," I fumbled. Then I found my footing. "But, it's not you. Not your whole you. It's a way you've learned to be because of what's gone on in your life. And my wish for you is that, in this next chapter, you can ensconce yourself in a community of friends where you get to choose being that way when it suits you - but it isn't a necessity for your survival. You can also choose to be a different way, if and when it suits you."
The table got a little quiet.
"My wish for you is that you can say to those ways you've learned to be, "Thank you, habit. You served a purpose and helped me stay safe, and I appreciate that. Your job is done now, and I don't need you any more." That's my wish for you, to have that choice" I repeated, also quietly.
After a moment, she replied with a thank you, and questions for me about times when I let go of parts of myself that no longer served me, and whether I thought choice was a necessary element of freedom.
As I took a taxi through the blurred night streets on my way home, I was reminded of our first Girls Gone Happy session back in 2015. I had everyone there draw different "hats" they wore in life (the drawings were hilarious and silly, but the conversation was profound). Then, everyone drew a "hat" for someone else in the room, a hat they'd like to gift them, and we went around the circle and shared these gifts with each other.
"I give you the Sleep Mask Hat of Rest"
"I give you the Feathered Top Hat of Confidence"
"I give you the Chef Hat of Someone Else Cooking For You"
and so on.
The silliness of the hats allowed us to let our guards down, but man, let me tell you how profound it was to have folks give each other these free "gifts". Because to offer a gift like this, some big elements of deep friendship are satisfied:
- I have listened to you deeply, and noticed the subtext of what you're saying.
- I am invested in your happiness and well-being, without ulterior motive.
- I have taken the time to think about you, and what would serve your highest good.
- I am being brave enough to share this with you even if it might feel awkward, because I really care for you.