No one really teaches you how to be a good friend. There is no manual on friendship, and even if there was we are all different and our expectations and needs are unique. Of course there’s an entire section in bookstores on Relationships, but the focus is always on romance, rarely platonic friendships. Yet we value those relationships as much as (or more than) we value romantic relationships. Friends are the family we choose, and they are there for us through everything. This I can say is true as I’ve been the recipient of this loyalty, and it is no longer just a cliche to me anymore. Friends really are there through everything.
It’s so easy to make friends when we’re kids. Go up to kid on playground. Ask to play. Tell them you want to be friends. Repeat. Sometimes an occasional recess snack sharing is involved, but that’s pretty much it. We have so many friends when we are kids, in part because everyone we meet becomes a friend but also because our lives are simple and so being a good friend is a lot easier.
I was in elementary school when I met Sonja. She was really tall, kind of loud (but in a good way) and hilarious. She exceled at sports, the teachers loved her, and she had so many friends. But not just the cool kids, see, Sonja was everyone’s friend. I was pretty excited to become her friend and felt especially stoked that she invited me to register for hip hop dance classes at a new studio not far from our house (this would later become my second home for the next 12 years and had a great impact on the person I became, so, thank you Sonja). Although she quickly learned hockey, ringette and volleyball were more her thing, she stayed in dance a little longer to appease me, but also came to watch and support me. Oh, and how could I forget that I roped her into raising money for kid’s cancer research and shaving our heads together at the end of grade 6. If entering junior high with a buzz cut isn’t a sign of a loyal friend I don’t know what is!
Junior high was relatively painless (once our hair grew in 😉 hehe), and I am the first to admit it’s in part because I had Sonja. Of course putting hundreds of pubescent and hormonal girls (and guys) together is a recipe for drama, Sonja always had my back. It didn’t really matter how much another girl could my feelings, because I knew Sonja would make sure I was okay and felt important, and she would even stick up for me. Plus, Sonja was Sonja (those who know her know exactly what I mean). Somehow she went through junior relatively unscathed and I think it’s because she knew who she was and was who she was. She was never trying to be anyone else, she was just Sonja. Tall, loud, easy going, funny and friends with everyone. I really admired her ability to be herself and I would often try being more myself because of her example. Looking back I find it remarkable that she was able to be so confident and awesome at 14.
Not much changed through high school and university, except that we were both city hopping for school from LA, to Lethbridge, to Toronto, to Norway and more. Sonja has consistently remained Sonja: best friend to all, tall, funny, great at sports, smart and well-loved by all she knows. We’ve always stayed in touch (like she full on wrote me letters and sent gifts from Norway! Who does that?), but we really got close again in the last couple years. And I am so glad we did.
This spring my life turned completely upside down. Everything I knew and loved was taken from me, and I experienced a betrayal like no other. I didn’t know who I was, I physically couldn’t function, and at times felt completely alone. No one prepared me for the heartbreak, confusion and profound loss I was feeling. So, certainly no one could have prepared Sonja on how-to-handle-a-best-friend-living-across-the-country-going-through-the-worst-thing-she-will-likely-ever-have-to-go-through (aside from sicknesses and deaths, but we don’t want to think about that yet). Yet, somehow Sonja knew exactly what to do. And for those of you looking to be a good friend to someone who’s suffering, take notes now.
Sonja called. She texted. She answered her phone while in New York for work, while in LA for work, and while in Nashville for a fun trip, as each time I sobbed with more and more bad news. She consistently made me feel like being there for me was more important than going to the pool or hanging with her boyfriend (thank you Nick for being so supportive). And when the daily texts from so many amazing people in my life started to fizzle a bit (which I totally understand and I don’t want to downplay all the wonderful people in my life who still check in on me, but really I can’t expect everyone to check on me every single day. That’s absurd and I still wonder how Sonja still does it) Sonja kept calling. She still texted. When I was home in Calgary for a month she had me over, she distracted me with her baking, she brought me on errands, and she talked to me. Most importantly she listened. She never judges me and always tries to see my side. And while she may not handle things similarly if she was experiencing them (and sometimes tells me I’m too kind and nice), she still understands I’m doing what’s best for me. She always has my best interests at heart.
It’s been almost 3 months since I felt like my life ended. Sonja has helped me see that it’s just the beginning. She has helped me remember that I’m still the same person I’ve always been, and people and circumstances don’t define me. In my darkest moments (which there have been many) she has helped me see the light. And she has somehow convinced me that I am smart, and sexy, and awesome when I was sure I wasn’t. She has never made me feel bad or resented me for talking about myself too much, or complaining or just full on crying on the phone. And when good things happen, she is the first to cheer me on. She knows every detail of my life for the last 3 months, and what is especially remarkable is that she cares about everything. She remembers the details, she asks about them and even reflects on my life on her own time.
Sonja has called me every single day since that awful day a few months ago. She used to call me for her 25 minute drive to work but it seems like that wasn’t enough time for us to cover everything and lately she’s started calling me while she gets ready in addition to the drive. I walk Saunders and she gets ready while we talk. Every. Single. Day. Sometimes after work too, and often even on weekends. Plus, we’re obviously still texting and snap chatting throughout the day too. And while these daily phone calls each on their own are rather small, they, as a whole have changed my life. I get out of bed because I look forward to that morning chat.
I’m not sure how I will ever properly be able to repay or even thank Sonja for the profound impact she has had on me in my life, and especially these last few months. But the thing about Sonja is that she’s completely selfless and expects nothing. In fact, she will probably be embarrassed I’m even talking about her in this way, because I don’t think she even thinks it’s a big deal :). And that’s because she is Sonja.
Today is her birthday. I know the world got a little brighter and better on August 8, 1988. My life sure did. I always knew Sonja was someone special, as I’ve never seen someone be part of so many bridal parties and be called a Best Friend so much in my life! But now I really know why Sonja is special: she really cares. Sure, she’s hilarious, witty, kind, fun and awesome but she does everything with her heart. She is the most thoughtful, loyal, caring person I’ve ever known and truthfully, when I think too hard about her I cry. I am so, so lucky.
Happy Birthday, Sonja. Thank you for being born, for introducing me to Absolute Dance (which would change my life), for shaving your head with me and for helping me through what will hopefully be the hardest thing I’ll have to go through. You have taught me so many things, but most importantly how to be the greatest friend ever. You deserve all of the best things in life, including nachos, beer, Netflix, and Nick. I am immensely grateful for you and wish you all the best today. I only wish I could be bringing you lunch and the most cry-induced birthday hug imaginable. I have a feeling this is going to be the start of your best year yet. I love you, forever.
Love, your B-B-A-B-F <3
…. If you’re lucky enough to have a friend like Sonja, call or text them and thank them. Also, try and be like Sonja. I know I sure am. The world would be a much better place if everyone had and was a Sonja. And if you want to wish my bestie a special birthday wish, send her a text: 403-990-9299 🙂