My friend, Barb, is a total badass.
It's not because she's a redhead or because she says it like it is or even because she infuses every conversation with an allusion to the Beatles. Barb's a super badass because she knows she's never too old to stretch her limits and challenge herself to try new things. After spending almost four decades in the classroom, she retired last June and is enjoying all that life has to offer...and then some.
For more than thirteen years, Barb's been a yoga student of mine, so we've become the best of friends. I know her strengths and challenges on the mat and Barb knows my strengths and challenges in everyday life. Our birthdays are only one day apart, so as Virgos we have a tendency to talk about most any subject, analyze most anything, and always strive to do our best.
How wonderful to say something particularly precise and have Barb smile and say, "Oh, you're such a Virgo!"
"It takes one to know one," I often sass back.
These days I remind my students (and myself) that we're not attempting perfection in the poses...we're working toward completion. So, last month I encouraged Barb to let me show her how to use the free weights at the gym. Her workout routine wasn't taking her where I knew she could go, so we created a new exercise plan that instantly revealed how awesome Barb truly is.
After one particularly challenging overhead pull, I readjusted her alignment and said, "See if you can do a couple more reps."
"I'll do five," she shot back.
Then she did ten!
See? I told you...badass all the way.
Now it's commonplace for me to show her something new and she's on it like white on rice. Take yesterday for instance. I demonstrated a particularly challenging flutter kick designed by Marines to torture plebs for conduct unbecoming and after giving it a whirl, Barb took a break, huffing and puffing. "I'll see if I can do five more."
But of course she did ten.
"My body loves this," she exclaimed during a particularly heavy workout. "For the first time I know what it feels like to be really strong. Girls should learn how to do this in elementary school."
"It's never too late," I smiled, handing her a heavier free weight. "Next time I'll add some more fun stuff."
"Yeah, I should get you a whistle," she quipped. "...and a whip."
Week after week, workout after workout, Barb tries every single thing I offer. From bench-stepping to supported squats to plank after plank after plank, she eagerly goes for it. Sure there are days when she doesn't feel as strong or times when she has to back off a bit, but that's par for the course in anything. Still, she shows up at the gym with a smile on her face, a willingness to keep going, and her badassery always pays off in the end.
"Thank you so much for doing this for me," Barb said last week while we sat in the steam room.
"Of course," I replied. "That's what friends are for."
Still, it's a great way to give something back to a woman who's given so very much to me all these years. From the moment we met in January of 2003, I knew she was a kindred spirit. After yoga we chatted for a bit, then I walked her to the door.
"Oh look, Katie!" Barb smiled, pointing to the glass plate on the front door. "It's so cold, the condensation froze and made an angel." Sure enough there was an icy, winged spirit guarding my house, welcoming Barb to what she often calls "the womb room".
We've laughed and cried through countless seasons of our lives which have taken us to places often unimagined, but never unaccompanied. When I moved my business to a studio off of Sylvania Avenue in 2005, Barb continued to practice with me. When I prepared to move west in 2008, she attended one of my last classes and wished we well on my new adventures. When my heart was broken in Big Sur, I called Barb and sat in a stuffy phone booth crying my eyes out while she patiently listened, encouraging me to keep walking forward.
"You're stronger than you know," she told me more than once.
Now I repeat those words to her every single time she pumps some iron.
It's an incredible gift to have a friend who understands how it feels to not quite fit in anywhere, but still want to be a part of the world. We often talk about our propensity to steer clear of the social norm and go our own way even if it means being the odd woman out. Barb was single for a long time before she met her husband, so she totally understands what it means to be completely alone. Like me, she once wanted children; but instead of giving birth, Barb was an incredible special needs teacher who inspired thousands of kids.
Perhaps the thing I love most about Barb is her droll sense of humor, for she always knows just the right moment to crack a joke or say something exceptionally witty, if not a bit bawdy as well. A few weeks ago before Saturday morning yoga, we were sitting with a dear friend who had been having an awful week. Rachel's mother was recently diagnosed with ALS and it's been a long, difficult journey for her and her brothers. When Rachel relayed the story of how hard it was for her mother to speak, all three of us were in tears.
Barb and I shared a moment from our lives in which we cared for a loved one who was dying, revealing the most tender parts of the progression, the ones that both touched us deeply and allowed us to see that in the end, it's all about the love you give.
"I know this is just a bad week," Rachel said, wiping her eyes. "It's just so hard to watch my mother go through this."
"I can imagine," I nodded. "If there's anything you need, don't hesitate to ask us. We'll stay in touch with you if you're not able to come to yoga."
"Absolutely," Barb nodded. Then she spontaneously stood up. "Uh...excuse me." Reaching down one side of her sweatpants, she rummaged around for a moment.
At first I thought she must have had the Mother of All Wedgies, but then she pulled out a big, black sock. "I've been looking for this!" she exclaimed. "That pant leg felt so weird! That's where it's been all this time!"
Rachel and I stared at her for a split second, then burst into laughter, our chortles mingling with our tears. Barb soon joined us and we giggled so long and hard, that when the other ladies arrived for yoga, we were still at it, holding our sides, trying to catch our breath. Tears rolled down our cheeks, but now they weren't just tears of grief, but tears of joy as well that reflected how we all were feeling.
Bittersweet, my favorite emotion.
My dear friend, Barb, is not just a badass.
She can pull anything out of her ass, be it a clever pun, words of encouragement...or even a sock! She's taught me that we get by with a little help from our friends, all you need is love, and even in the darkest of times, there's always a moment when we can smile and say, "Here comes the sun."
A few years ago, Barb gave me a birthday card with a picture of two young girls joy riding in a convertible sports car. Of course, one of the girls is a redhead, and the other wears a hot pink ball cap just like mine. "It's not the destination that matters," the caption reads. "It's the company."
Ain't it the truth?