Remembering Maura: Eat Dessert FirstBy Joan Florek Schottenfeld
Editor’s note: The column below, entitled “New Friends,” was published in an earlier edition of the Canton Citizen and is being reprinted with a new introduction by the author in memory of the late Maura Sullivan, a Canton attorney and longtime community volunteer who passed away on March 11.
I learned Maura’s philosophy of life the first time we went out to dinner together. We were waiting to be seated when she asked the hostess for a dessert menu. I asked her why not the dinner menu and she answered, “I always like to see what they have for dessert, then I can plan my dinner around it.”
When we were seated she carefully perused the menu, asking the waitress a myriad of questions before she ordered two desserts: One for before dinner, the second for later. The waitress and I both looked at her questioningly. “Hey,” she said, “life is short. You should eat dessert first and last.”
That night I also learned that Maura never settled for anything. She didn’t find anything she liked on the menu so she and the waitress “created” a dinner from available ingredients. I marveled. I, who apologized for any substitution (Do you think I could possibly have the beans instead of asparagus?) would never have dared to ask for a personalized meal. But Maura knew what she wanted and she got it.
Another time we met, Maura was wearing what I was to learn was her signature outfit: a tiara and feather boa. She believed that everyday should be special and so she dressed for celebration. I have a lovely tiara of my own hanging on the wall of my bedroom. Mariel bought it for me so that I would feel empowered as I attempted to change the world one student at a time. I confess that I have never worn it outside the house. Maura would be sorely disappointed in me.
She taught me so much — taking me to my first town meeting, convincing me to join the Finance Committee, thrilled when I won my first term as library trustee. The one thing she couldn’t teach me, though, was her love of sports. Even Maura could never get me to appreciate football.
The moment I saw the picture of Maura on the front page in her tiara and boa I remembered how we first met, and though it brought tears they were coupled with laughter. I wish you all the daring I had then in seeking her friendship. Maura would have approved.
It’s easy to make friends in the sandbox or across a table sticky with white paste and glitter. Later on in life, if you find yourself home with young kids, the sandbox is, once again, the place where relationships are forged.
But beyond that sandy oasis, new friends become rare and unexpected; the older you get, the harder they seem to find. People are busy; they jealously guard their time. There’s just no room for another commitment. And friendships are commitments — of time, of compassion, of heart. We tend to circle our family wagons and eye suspiciously any intruder who taps on our windows.
Once in a while, though, you may find yourself on a new committee, or maybe you surrender to a plea for help, and in so doing you open yourself to magic. Because that’s what it is when you meet someone and your hearts connect.
Laughter tickles your bones at each other’s silly jokes, or you realize that you’re crying over the same book, or you both show up in funny socks. “Where have you been all my life?” you wonder, and then you stop short.
The tentative beginning of friendship is a courtship dance burdened with doubts and fears. Did I say too much? Laugh too long? Was I too loud, too pushy, too demanding? When your telephone message is unreturned, you’re immediately sure that the affection is one sided and the ride is over. And if there are no effortless daily interactions, there are few ways to check the pulse of the new friendship without nervously committing yourself further.
Maura calls them Venn diagram relationships. “You know how the circles interconnect with teams and clubs and activities,” she explained to me. “If you fall outside my circles, it becomes an effort to connect.”
We met two months ago when I closed my eyes and joined a CAPE (Canton Alliance for Public Education) team on a leap of faith. I was sure that I would make a complete fool of myself. Instead, I found an afternoon of fun and Maura. Maura introduced me to her friend Donna, another kindred spirit.
I tagged along with them one evening and gingerly tested the waters between bites of cookie and chocolate splurges, uncertain yet happy. Would these women want me poking into their established, long years’ friendship? Wasn’t it an act of hubris to assume that I would be welcomed into their easy relationship so full of shared memories?
When Maura lent me a favorite book, it gave me the bit of courage I needed to relax my fears and embrace the gift that was being offered.
Later, as I turned the pages, I thought about how we are so anxious about stepping into other people’s territory. What are we so afraid of? Are we so vulnerable that the slightest hint of rejection sends us scurrying back to our own little corners? Fears keep us so firmly hunkered down in familiar places that we miss the chance when, unexpectedly, a door cracks open and we’re invited in for tea.
So, for once, I’m putting my fears aside and I’m going in for scones, tea and affinity. There is nothing to lose and so very much to gain.
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