She was one of those friends who made you think you had climbed Mount Everest, no matter how small a step you had taken. Whatever courage you mustered, Nancy applauded the bravery; whatever course you chose, she enthusiastically affirmed your grounds.
When she died a few years ago, many of us lost a "mother," a coach, and the best cheerleader we would ever have. Who can blame me then, whenever personal news seems stunning, for needing to cry out to her spirit in the universe?
"Nancy, I’m a matchmaker, I say as loud as I dare," awaiting the long-cherished response to most any behavior, "But of course, Lanie, but of course. Bravo! Good for you."
She knew full well what a romantic I was, after all, having comforted me from her sick bed as I pined over both a brief unrequited love and the end of a 30-year marriage. When the turmoil was over, Nancy basked in my happiness, thrilled with the man I had met through a national dating service. She lived long enough, thankfully, to see me with someone she agreed was, for me, the ideal husband.
It often feels as though you have never thanked someone enough for all they have given you. But now that my husband and I have started our own local matchmaking service, I finally have a way to at least pay tribute to this beloved friend.
For like Nancy, I am entrusted, as a matchmaker, with the vulnerabilities and open hearts of those who come to me for help. I, too, have the rare opportunity to hear stories that confirm for me daily our need for connection as well as the resilience and hopefulness of the human spirit. And I have the challenge, with her inspiration, to make the appropriate response.
What can you feel but awe, though, when listening to "Anne," who survived an abusive marriage for 32 years? "Anne’s" husband rarely talked to her except to put her down, she told me matter-of-factly. He wouldn’t let her drive and programmed their few activities. She’d never known what it was like to have someone tell her she was special, to have a man she could talk to and even argue with in a non-threatening way, to have her husband fix things without punching his hand through the walls. Finally she is free, free to play golf, to learn to ride a bike. Every day is a new adventure, she says, and rather than being bitter, she yearns for the company of a kind man, her face lighting up at the prospect of how the most normal of activities can be fun when shared.
How can you not be moved, in fact, by the stories of each and every client? There’s "Joanie," who, though only 35, said she hadn’t been this happy in a long time, thanks to her new-found love. "Kristen," the same age, thought she was ugly and unlovable but has now met a darling fellow with whom to share her life. "Helen," at 40, says she feels like a kid; she didn’t think she’d ever feel this way again about someone. And "John," a gentle 59-year-old who has lost two loving wives, is putting himself out there, trusting that somehow he will find another friend to love.
From young and old widowers and widows, who are bravely giving it another try, to young and old divorcees, who are willing to cast aside cynicism for a fresh start, to those just beginning the quest for intimacy, Nancy’s words seem to me the truest response: "Bravo!"
To them all, to the client whose long-term boyfriend broke up with her on New Year’s Eve, to the man who wants desperately to have his own child, to the bachelors who regret the choices they made, to the very young wanting to make the right choice, to the man at mid-life who tells me he is hopeful for the first time in a long time, to the woman who left her husband to be with another woman, indeed to all of our clients, I want to say over and over those words that meant so much to me, "Good for you. Good for you."
And as I cheer them on their journeys, with Nancy’s guidance, I can do some mothering, as well -- coach and encourage, glorying as folks spread their wings and perhaps even discover that their own ideal partner may not come in quite the package they expected.
I am often asked what it is like to be a matchmaker. I suppose it can be compared to having the privilege of being the kind of friend that Nancy was. For from an overarching perspective, I can see, as she did, what most people can’t see themselves: just how very brave are the lives they lead.
Eudora Welty once wrote that life is the continuation of love. Are you listening, Nancy? I only pray that you understand how much you did and do to nourish that life-affirming cycle in the universe. "Wish us all well," I plead.
And the voice that keeps me grounded and on track comes from away in the distance, farther than Mt. Everest, and finds its way, mysteriously, into the depths of my heart.
"But of course, Lanie, but of course."
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