True friends can be ranked much like the Michelin Guide rates restaurants: one star is “a very good friend”; two stars are for “excellent friendship that is worth a detour”; and three stars mean “exceptional friendship that is worth a special journey”. As much a glutton for people as I am for food, I regularly travel to see people I love and appreciate. And as an expat on the move for the last 10 years, I have usually been the one traveling to see my friends, grading them along the way to make sure they remained worth the trip.
It recently dawned on me that perhaps there was an extra star in order for some people in our lives that the Michelin Man never thought of: the kind of friend that considers you worth a detour or special journey. The ones who re-arrange their schedules, take days off work if they must, buy the tickets, wouldn’t-miss-you-for-the-world kind of friends. And not just for your wedding or to visit the new place you live, but because they want to see you or know that you want to see them.
These people are family. I recently allowed myself to be the subject of the love of a select group of such friends, a motley crew of eclectic characters scattered in different countries, who gathered in The Hague for the auspicious occasion of my 37th birthday. It turned out to be a gathering no milestone could hold a candle to.
First came N, who re-scheduled her return to The Netherlands after months abroad to weeks earlier just to make it in time. This is after An’ had been the pioneering first to declare her commitment to attend while she was in Belize. Ad’ followed suit with enthusiasm, despite the fact that she knew she would have to be in Mozambique and then Romania a week before my do. When M expressed her regrets for not being able to join by reason of a 6-week journey through East Africa ending just one day before the established time of arrival, I felt entitled to make a fuss and we were both grateful that I did. Her presence was essential, even if she’d forgotten it. J reserved her confirmation until the last minute, to make it a surprise, and took K with her because of course he had to be there. B told work to shove it, and C was with us because our ancestors wouldn’t have it any other way.
Once reunited, the trip was all mine. We were all transported back to the place we met while being in a place we barely knew. We could have been anywhere. An’ was on fire, free associating, in perpetuity, effortlessly. It was a formidable feat, and so entertaining to hear one train of thought lead straight into another, so unrelated that by the time anyone realized it, there was no more appropriate response than to bow to the ground in genuflect respect. N was either quiet or telling everyone to shut the fuck up, because of course, the most important thing to do is hear the music and dance. M took her long awaited turn to indulge in herself, a luxury she should afford herself far more often. Ad’ preached salvation through psychedelics and other spirituals between extended naps. B spoke often and with zeal, because it was finally his turn, lifetimes ago. C checked in and out in his exquisitely extreme way, rarely losing his manners or composure. J was doted on by K, the two of them reminding us all of our life partnership goals. The dynamic flowed like an Olympian river bearing its teeth to Poseidon.
When the festivities were over, we parted ways, and I was left alone once again. No matter how long I train myself in the art, solitude is not my forte. But even in brutal and sudden loneliness, I could not shake off the ultimate cocoon I was offered as an inadvertent gift: I am a three-star friend to many who have earned their fourth star for me. Who could ask for anything more?