My friend Paul sent me the most lovely housewarming gift. While I was moving into my apartment, I sent a picture to our group chat showcasing my favorite feature in the new place: the front entry closet. This large closet is just big enough to hold all of my outdoor gear and it’s bursting with tents and sleeping bags and skis and hiking boots and sailing gear and helmets and trekking poles and when I open the door I feel a literal rush of possibility and joy. I immediately started to call it, with great affection, “The Adventure Closet.” Paul, in his kindness, sent me the perfect custom sign for the door to help me feel “happy and comfortable” in my new home. As deeply thoughtful gifts often do, it made me cry.

It is an incredible thrill to be loved by people who don’t have to choose us. We expect love from family, but to have people in the world owe us nothing but decency, and yet choose to know and be generous to us is a wild gift. In my story, as in many others, there are big patches of loneliness where those kinds of generous friendships were scarce. The most formative of those patches in my life covered all of middle and early high school. Unfortunately, that’s a time when we are busy writing foundational stories about ourselves, so the story I ended up with is that I am not cool, and that I am not someone who has a lot of friends. It is my firm belief that the enduring power of middle school narratives is why therapists will always have jobs. 

My internal story of uncoolness was contrasted by my older brother, who (to me) was the pinnacle of high-achieving popularity. Smart, gregarious, and multi-talented, I imagine that there were many days when the sight of his little sister in the high school hallway was enough to make him shake his head and duck the other way. Nathan’s many friends were a painful reminder of my lack, and I was especially jealous of the way they communicated at all hours through texting.

My first phone in high school had prepaid minutes and I had one person’s number other than my parents. I didn’t have people to text, or who ever texted me, and one night, in the very deepest pain of ninth grade, I wailed to my mother my deep longing for these “texting friends.” It has become something of a gentle inside joke for us now that my contact list has swelled to the hundreds, but it is also a way for us to quietly recognize how a faithful God and benevolent universe have filled what once was an aching chasm.

My twenties have provided multiple unexpected opportunities for a new narrative to emerge about my ability to find and keep friends. When I was so sick, I was humbled by the number of people who reached out to provide comfort and encouragement. And through this move to Rochester, I have seen the full breadth and depth of my friendships, mostly, in a great healing arc, through text messages. 

Friends checking in. Friends asking to see pictures of my new place. Friends sending recommendations. Local friends answering questions about doctors and hairstylists. Friends listening when I say that I miss Buffalo. Friends asking for my new address so they can send cards. Group texts so busy that I discreetly remove my buzzing watch in meetings to minimize the distraction. If only little Ansley could see us now. 

And my friends probably don’t know that with each message they are comforting that lonely thirteen year old with the phone that never chimes. Maybe we would be kinder to each other if we imagined each person as their awkward teenage self. I hope I never cease to wonder at my friends. I hope I never lose sight of or take for granted the miracle of human connection. I hope I am good to the people in arms reach, and show them the personalized love of well-chosen gifts, or generous words, or given time. And I hope that everyone has all the texting friends their teenage heart desires. 

8 Comments

  1. Dean Ziegler

    “It is my firm belief that the enduring power of middle school narratives is why therapists will always have jobs.”

    Ansley, that line alone was worth the read time – you made me laugh out loud!

    I may have to open a sermon on inner healing someday with that exact line. I will certainly credit you. Thanks for such good writing, as always.

    Reply
    • Margaret Brockman

      Ansley- you are super cool. And what a writer!!

      Reply
      • Ansley Kelly

        Thank you Margie! You’re super cool too! Thanks for reading

        Reply
    • Ansley Kelly

      Your encouragement continues to mean so much to me! As with any idea, it is never wholly ours, and always better when built on by others. The world would be better for hearing your riff on this one!

      Reply
    • Vickie Wheeler

      I am sorry about your HS years, though mine went pretty much the same as yours. Also texting can be so easily misunderstood because you can’t hear the tone of their voice nor look at their facial expressions so they get a totally wrong message if you don’t use the perfect wording needed.

      Reply
  2. Dawn R Hendriksen

    So well said. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    • Ansley Kelly

      Thank you for reading!

      Reply
  3. Tavia

    I had no doubt (faith) that one day you would have “texting friends.” You have always been cool, smart, gregarious, and multi-talented. Sometimes the world and relationships are upside down. Sometimes it has blindspots. With time it has a way of rightsizing. I am grateful for the challenges overcome and everyone of your texting friends.

    Reply

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