First Published June 26, 2014, in Leah's former blog, "Being in Berkeley".
I made a new friend yesterday. This means that I did not just smile and exchange names and a few personal details with a courteous neighbor, but actually got digits from someone who would like to spend more time with me and my kids. I've met someone who wants to get to know us, wants to do play dates, invited us to her neighborhood block party, said to call or text anytime. Thus, I think I can safely claim that I have made an honest-to-goodness new friend.
Why this is significant is that I've now been living in Berkeley for two and a half weeks. I've already had loads of experiences learning the new culture I'm now living in (which I promise to blog more about soon), and I'm slowly beginning to adapt to it. And while I've deeply appreciated the family time we've had together since the move (especially after seven weeks of Jason and I living in different states), I've also been painfully aware of my strangeness here. I have felt myself an alien in a strange land. Just a few days ago I sent these words in an email to a handful of my midwestern friends, expressing the most difficult part of this transition:
...unlike any move I've made thus far, the transition from a place of having rich, wonderful friendships to one of knowing basically no one has been the most stark. I'm lonely. It's real. I knew I would be, so I'm not really surprised, but it doesn't make the sting of it any less potent. Keeping busy with the kids helps, and being reunited with Jason is wonderful, but it is hard feeling like I am already losing touch with my pastoral identity, feeling like I'm a pastor with no sheep. Each day that passes here it feels like Iowa fades a bit more.
So this new bud of a friendship is a pleasant surprise, especially because of how it began. The background is that at some point in the first couple of days that I was here, I found myself in the check out line at Target, and I saw a pack of bubbles there. And knowing we had barely any toys at home because our things were still in transit, and I was desperate for cheap ways to entertain the kids, I bought the bubbles, and threw a bottle in my diaper bag so we'd always have a source of toddler-friendly entertainment available when we were out and about.
Anyway, I've spent the last two-and-a-half weeks trying to keep my three rambunctious little people busy, and trying to learn more about our new hometown. So we've been surveying the playground scene, trying a number of parks and tot lots in our neighborhood and throughout Berkeley. And last week we were on one of our many playground excursions when I pulled out the bubbles, much to the delight of all the tots assembled there. One little two-year-old girl in particular was taken with them, and even after her mother pulled out her own bottle of bubbles for her to use, she kept following me around because apparently my bubbles were better. I blew for her, I watched her dance in them, pop them, and then gave her the bottle so she could blow more for herself, which she did during the rest of our play time at the park. Her parents were there, and for the most part they smiled and thanked me for engaging their daughter, but remained at a distance. After a while, I packed up my kids and my bubbles and we went on our way, and I basically forgot any of that happened. If anything, I left a bit discouraged that no parents had really talked to me, and wondered how I was going to find any friendship here.
And then yesterday I took the girls to a new playground; a different tot lot than we had frequented before. And I'm watching the girls play in the sand and climb on the play structure when I notice a mom smiling at me. Like actually making eye contact and smiling. So I smile back and head her direction, not recognizing that I have seen this woman before.
"Aren't you the woman who had the bubbles at San Pablo Park?", she says. It is the mom of the bubble-loving toddler. And there her daughter is, making fast friends with mine.
"Mom! I have a new friend!", Junia exclaims.
The mother and I start conversing about our backgrounds, where we've lived before Berkeley. We find out we're in the same neighborhood and we're both members at the Berkeley Y. Her husband comes by, and she introduces me as "the woman with the bubbles". He smiles with recognition and is super friendly. She initiates that she'd love to meet up for more play times, and asks to exchange contact info. And I am genuinely delighted to meet this family and hopeful for what this new friendship might become.
In the Bible, hospitality is a big deal, as it was in the ancient world. And there's a motif throughout the Bible stories of people meeting at wells, offering one another water, and interesting exchanges taking place. Yesterday's experience during what I thought was a run-of-the-mill the-girls-are-driving-me-crazy, I-need-to-get-them-out-of-the-house, let's-go-to-the-park playground trip reminded me of those exchanges that people in the Bible had by the well. No, I wasn't offering to give water to anyone's camel, but bubbles to a toddler in this context was apparently just as powerful in building trust and communicating care.
So as the summer continues, I look forward to getting to know this new friend and her family better. And I will keep frequenting the Berkeley playgrounds, making sure to always bring my bottle of bubbles.