I met my friend Bonnie when I was in the 7th grade. She was a cheery, loud-voiced Italian gal whose common greeting was a sound slap on your arm or back. Her family lived on the next block over and I would frequently take the short-cut between us to visit.
Bonnie was one of those people who always said EXACTLY what is on their mind with almost no editing. This communication style left very little room for doubt about where you were in her circle of love (or not); and she loved large. I remember being at a rock concert (Rolling Stones & Stevie Wonder) with Bonnie and her boyfriend, Mike, and somehow they got separated. This was in the old school days of festival seating, where my strategy as a short woman was to find a spot against a pillar where I could see the stage and stay put. Bonnie began yelling for Mike at the top of her lungs and pushing her way through the throngs of concert goers. Bonnie yelled so loud and for so long she actually cleared a path nearly to the stage where she found a sheepish looking Mike who had left to use the bathroom and was trying to make his way back . It was Bonnie’s own kind of echo-location…
Bonnie’s older sister was one of those dangerous looking gals who dyed her black hair a sort of orangey-blonde, wore her clothes short and tight with tops that barely contained her large breasts and, she smoked. Bonnie began smoking too when we were in the 8th grade. I still shiver when I think about the day we met at the local elementary school and, hunkered down in the woods, shared a large bottle of Strawberry Nehi Soda, a bag of corn chips and some stolen Winston cigarettes. It was not a good combination and I threw up at least twice before I made it home. I did not try smoking again for several years, but Bonnie stuck with it and by the time we got to high school she was a pack a day smoker, and she smoked for 35 years before she was finally able to quit. She married Mike shortly after graduation and our lives took different paths. We still got together at least once a year and always exchanged Christmas cards. In January of 2006 I was asked to officiate at the memorial of my dear friend, Cadian Hendricks. Bonnie attended the service and afterwards she came up to me and said that someday she wanted a memorial service just like that for herself. I thanked her for her kind words and hugged her.
In the fall of 2007 Bonnie was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. Because of the urgency and scope of her treatment plan, I did not get to see Bonnie, but emailed her almost daily and sent her poems and bits of essay’s I thought she would like. It was a short, brave fight and, in January 2008, I did officiate at Bonnie’s memorial service.
The poem Bonnie liked the best was WILD GEESE by Mary Oliver, which is also one of my very favorites. Today I share it with you in honor of my dear friend, Bonnie, whose raucous laughter still echoes in my heart….
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
*from Dream Work by Mary Oliver