I 'd hit a stretch of bad road -- life is like that sometimes -- and had made an instinctive course correction. I found a friend to have lunch with.
There is nothing like eating food she didn't have to cook to make a woman feel pampered, and it doesn't even have to be good food.
Likewise, there is nothing like the patience of a good friend, who knows it is her turn to listen to your troubles because someday -- too soon, probably -- the favor will be returned.
The remedy had its familiar curative effect. I felt better. Less crazy. Less martyred. Not quite so lost.
That is why I was surprised to see this friend at my door the next day with a small gift. Well, not so surprised. A woman's tough times are often punctuated by a token of affection from a witness to her pain. It is usually flowers.
But my friend Susan carried something else. A tiny canvas tote, good for carrying not much more than a lipstick and a credit card.
Nice, I thought. But not very practical. Saddlebags might make more sense for the working mother of busy teen-agers.
"When you are having a bad day," she said by way of instruction, "reach in, and take one."
"One what?" I asked. "One valium? One cyanide capsule? What did you put in here?"
I made to open the little tote and she stopped me. "Wait until you are having a bad day."
It didn't take long. The next morning began with one or another of my family grousing at me, and I reached gratefully into the bag for the promised cure.
What I found were little slips of paper. Having been instructed by Susan to take only one a day, I obeyed. And this was written on it:
"Picture perfect garden -- all four seasons."
And I burst into tears.
On the rough days that followed, I pulled a tiny affirmation from Susan's little tote, and my spirits instantly lifted.
Some made me laugh: "Crock-pot queen." While others made my eyes sting with tears: "Second mother to my kids."
I dosed myself sparingly with these little compliments -- I would need fistfuls to get through life, I think. And I returned each one to the little tote after reading it. To my delight, I found that the pleasure they gave was recyclable.
I showed the little bag of praise to my 15-year-old daughter, and she gave out one of those "awwww's" young girls save for kittens and puppies. Then she cried.
I showed it to my husband and son, and while my husband was polite, my 17-year-old son was baffled.
"Well, like, what if you didn't like what she wrote?" he asked. Then he and his father traded snippy little barbs that the tote might have contained. "Those jeans make you look fat." "I wouldn't wear a two-piece anymore, if I was you."
I snatched the slips of paper away from them and rolled my eyes, muttering, "You guys are the reason women have to do this for each other." They looked at each other and shrugged, uncomprehending.
I don't know where Susan got this idea. Maybe someone did it once for her. Maybe she read it in Good Housekeeping . Maybe it came to her in an inspiration as she continued to fret about me after we parted that day at lunch.
I don't know. But that little tote carried in it the nature of women's friendships.
It is not just that a woman would give a friend a little gift to lift her spirits on a cloudy day of the heart. It is not just that a woman would compliment a friend. And it is not just that a woman would write these compliments down for a friend to read again, and again.
No. It is that a woman would notice these things about a friend -- her devotion to the crock-pot. The sound of her laugh. Her garden in winter.
A friend knows the good things in a woman's life, and she knows when to point them out to her.