The Awesome Power of Early Friendships and Late Summer Storms

August 16, 2016
I hate what’s happened to the word “awesome”.  For the last 10 years, reality shows and commentators abused this adjective until they reduced it to an on-air cliche.  It’s not fair and it’s not right.
“Did you see so-and-so’s new Jeep?”
“Yeah, it’s awesome.”
“Sidney’s so awesome doing her little tap dance.  You should see her kick up her legs!”
It doesn’t matter whether we’re discussing the Olympics, sugarless pudding or Donald Trump, everything is described as awesome when most of the time…it isn’t.  And that cheapens the word for those who wield such power that we gaze at them with a respect bordering on reverence.  The power that can end or alter the course of your life, like early friendships and late summer storms.  Either of these is an agent of incredible force; combined, the effect is explosive.
That is one of the ideas behind Anne Rivers Siddon’s novel, Outer Banks.  On the surface, it’s a reunion of four middle-aged women who went to college together as girls but, it’s also a hymn to the power of our very first friendships. The older women all carry a patina of  achievement, loss, and experience but in each other, they also see the adolescent girls they were years ago. In case you haven’t heard, adolescent friendships can retain a lot of power.
Grown-up friends know the adults we became but friends from childhood also know who we could have been. They saw our potential before time and circumstance limited our choices. While we were incredibly vulnerable, they probably found out our biggest fears. The power of that knowledge can intensify with time giving old friends unique strength they can use with kindness or cruelty.
Summer storms are like that too, gaining energy from the heat of southern waters and storing it as they journey north. Sometimes, trapped energy and moisture increase over time until they hit an area of already-unstable weather.  The result is a hurricane, a storm system containing a hideous destructive force. 
So why don’t we run from our childhood friends, like they were all tropical cyclones named Andrew, Camille or Katrina?  Yes, they knew us during vulnerable times but just as certainly, we knew them as well and (mostly) we’ve learned to trust each others’ discretion over the years.  We know life-experience strengthened and humbled them, just as it strengthened and humbled us.  And, as we lose those who loved us as babies, first friends become the custodians of our past.  Finally, because they are friends, they use their influence, not to lay us low, but rescue us from despair. They loved us then, they love us still: first friends are truly awesome.

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