I once heard that souls travel in packs, and the longer I live, the more I believe this to be true. How else can you explain an instant friend?
Many years ago, a friend of mine was moving to New York, a city she had never been to. She spent her last night in LA at my apartment and, being from the East Coast, I did my best to inform her on what to expect. On our drive to the airport the next day, I made a spontaneous decision. She couldn't go alone!
I had no luggage, and was wearing nothing but black Calvin Klein boxer briefs, a T-shirt and a pair of old Doc Martin boots.
I did, however, have my wallet.
And when we got to LAX, I then and there purchased a one-way ticket to New York, and joined my friend on her first trip to the Big Apple.
As soon as we landed, I brought her to one of my then-favorite places, an ice cream shop on Central Park South called Rumplemeyer's. I remember that day as if it were yesterday.
When we arrived, I noticed someone sitting alone and so I invited him over to join us. He was visiting from England and although we exchanged numbers, we never called one another to keep in touch.
A few years later, another friend of mine moved from LA to London. Shortly after she arrived, she began talking about me to someone she'd been introduced to. Her new friend told her I sounded like someone he'd met on a trip to New York. Together they called me, and sure enough, it was the very same guy from the ice cream shop on Central Park South!
He was coming to LA later that year, and this time, he not only said he'd call, he actually did.
Soon we became fast friends and it wasn't long before I was on another plane, this time visiting him in London. It was during that trip that we went to a famous restaurant in Knightsbridge called San Lorenzo. He told me it was the place to be seen and how its owner, a woman named Mara, was a close friend of Princess Diana. The restaurant opened the very year I was born, and I was more than ready to taste the experience San Lorenzo had to offer.
But it wasn't the Italian food that won my heart. From the minute we met, Mara took my hands into her own and wouldn't let go. She not only made me try something I'd never eaten before, (calamari) -- she ordered my whole meal and sat beside me the entire evening as we swapped stories of the soul.
There would be no bill that night, and my friend was in a bit of shock as we left. He told me he'd been going there for years and had never been comped so much as a single drink!
And so began my instant friendship with a woman named Mara...
We corresponded several times a year in beautiful cards and handwritten letters, and I never visited England without going to see her and Rose, who faithfully worked by her side at the restaurant.
Mara and I shared an unexplainable bond. We had not been given the gift of "time spent," but we didn't need it.
From the moment we met, we weren't exactly "introduced," we were "re-united."
My last visit to London, I brought flowers to her home. She lived on Walton Place, just around the corner from the restaurant where we had met that fateful night so many years before. Rose had told me she was not well, and before what was to be our last visit, I went to the London Oratory on Brompton Road to say a prayer for my friend.
It was there I sat in silence, and thanked God for bringing a woman named Mara into the world, and especially into my life.
It's interesting when you stop long enough to look back and see the way certain friends "re-appear" in this life. Had I not taken that spontaneous flight, who knows? Mara and I may have missed one another in this one.
The other day, I was going through a pile of mail I had somehow misplaced. I came across a card from Rose and before I opened it, a quiet stillness overcame me. It was as if I knew her words before I read them.
Sure enough, she wrote to tell me with great sadness that our dear Mara had passed away. Rose eloquently wrote: "She is now free to fly and have the freedom she so deserved."
I found myself once again, sitting in silence. This time reflecting on the life of that kindred spirit, an instant friend.
I thought about the many conversations we shared over the years and I remembered the way she held my hands in her own and wouldn't let go. The great joy in her voice when she told me how Diana had taken her to meet one of her personal heroes, Mother Teresa... the way her sparkling eyes would well with tears whenever I sang to her.
Interesting that the card Rose had sent months before, would find me on the eve of a day as sacred as Yom Kippur.
I am, once again, so acutely aware of how "temporary" it all is, our precious time together. And yet, the bonds we co-create here on earth feel so ancient as we come and go, weaving in and out of the "oh-so familiar places -- and faces."
I am grateful for spontaneous decisions and unexpected surprises. Especially the ones that remind us we are here, and we are alive.
One day, I too will be free to fly. Then, somewhere in the great mystery of this time and space, I will find myself again being re-united with someone I once knew.
Someone who can take my hands into their own and remind me I am not alone. Someone who will see in me a kindred spirit, and make me believe that souls really do travel in packs.
And that someone will awaken within an ancient truth, that real friendship has no beginning or end -- and can never really die. That someone will easily pick up where we left off and become in a holy instant, an instant friend.
A friend like Mara.
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