This week, one of my dearest friends, Megan Bollinger celebrated her birthday and like a good friend, I bought her a… yoke.
Yes, a yoke.
If you’ve ever portaged a canoe with a non-contoured, standard yoke, no matter what technical carbonfiber material the gunnels are made of or how featherlight the design, it is a bitch to carry. The bite into the base of your neck and the torturous smarting of your traps leaves the portager cursing rather than singing along the trail. After one attempt at carrying Megan’s canoe on a recent backcountry trip, I was determined to change her portaging life.
So, a custom contoured yoke it was for her birthday present.
But as I wrapped her gift, running my hands along the grain of the wood, it occurred to me that although Megan’s birthday present had begun as a simple, pragmatic choice, the yoke had blossomed into something more symbolic. How many times over the past seven years of our friendship had Megan literally and figuratively carried me through the absolute devastating, vulnerable, ugly, grief-stricken moments of my life – as a parent, as a wife and as a physician? Where would I be in my life without Megan’s quiet support, shouldering the load by my side and carrying me forward, day by day, year by year.
This summer, I attended a virtual wellness-focused conference for Canadian female physicians. At a solo Air BnB retreat, I streamed lectures on parenting, sex, leadership and more, but one intriguing session that stood out was on the science of friendships.
I had never considered how, as an adult, one makes or maintains a friendship. In a way, it seemed somewhat intuitive. Nevertheless, the lecturer, a clinical psychologist who specialized in this area of research described what the qualitative data revealed specifically about female friendships. Firstly, the data tells us that it takes two women more than 100 hours spent together in order to transition from an acquaintance to a true friend. But spending time together, passively, isn’t enough. In order to cultivate close friendships, we can’t just show up but must embrace self-disclosure and vulnerability. In short, we need to share something real about ourselves and about one another; our wins, our struggles, our successes, our joys, etc. These intimacies create more robust connections and can have positive impacts on our health and wellbeing.
Seven years ago, on July 14th 2014, I showed up to my first day of work as a staff physician at the Meno Ya Win Health Centre in Sioux Lookout, ON. I was six months pregnant, two weeks out from completing my family medicine residency, with less than two years of marriage under my belt, in a new community about to be thrown headfirst into a terrifying job as a rural, full-scope doctor.
I was scared shitless.
Thankfully for me, it was also Megan’s first day too. From that day forward, Megan has supported me in the most intimate moments of my life – through never-ending ER shifts in those early years, through the births of Henry, Alice and Claire, through the roughest season of my marriage, through the toughest and most terrifying obstetrical cases, through the lowest points of my own self-doubt and through the most heart-wrenching of patient encounters. We have spent hundreds of hours, showing up together as our true, unaltered, unedited and unfiltered selves.
The most beautiful part, however, of being on the receiving end of Megan’s friendship is her unwavering, unconditional love, her balanced perspective and her fierce loyalty. If Megan says she’ll be there, she will always show up for you.
One of the ways in which Megan’s best attributes have manifested for my benefit has been in the creation of our annual women’s canoe trip, now fondly christened Women In Wilderness (WIW). These sacred days of paddling every summer were devised at an extremely low point in my parenting life. Two babies under two years old meant nearly 100% of my energy, time and physical self were devoted to breastfeeding and keeping littles alive. I want to say that I loved those early years, but it was crushing. I was desperate to be with my own thoughts, alone with my own body and just to be alone if only for a moment.
Hearing my desperation, Megan rallied our closest girlfriends and our annual escape to the backcountry was conceived. No partners, no kids, no work, no cellphones.
To say that this yearly paddling trip is sacred to me is an understatement. It is truly a lifeline for me and I cannot begin to thank Megan for her unwavering support and dedication in making something that initially was just a dream into an annual reality. Although our intention was never to exclude anyone based on their sex, there is something so incredibly intimate and unparalleled when women-only spaces are created. This year’s WIW trip was no exception. This year’s FIFTH annual trek into the wilderness brought us into Quetico Provincial Park’s most northwestern corner and will be go down in the books for the most nudity and the most classified personal confessions shared! An unforgettable trip and already I am looking forward to next year’s adventure.
So Megan, this post is to celebrate you, my friend. Thank you for the all the times you’ve carried me, for every trip we’ve co-led and for being one of the best friends a girl could ever ask for. No matter where life takes me, you know damn well that somehow, I’ll be making my way back to wherever you are each summer to paddle together until we are two old wrinkly ladies! So cheers to you, Megan. May you always have the wind at your back and may your paddling days be plentiful and full of joy. I love you deeply.