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Sue Bush
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Leading With My Heart: Confessions Of A Practical Blonde

By Sharon Leary
12:00AM / Sunday, March 11, 2007

Columnist Sharon Leary is a community health outreach advocate at the REACH Community Health Foundation. Her "practical blonde" moniker survives despite a passion for George Strait and cowboy hats. [Photo by Sue Bush]
I find those "Inbox" Internet chain mails about "true" friendship very annoying and a bit sinister. The premise is baffling: You better forward the communication to numerous unsuspecting recipients, or you’ll have bad luck for 7 years. I mean, do any true friendships involve actually willing your best buds 7 years of misery and bad breaks?

A friend, as defined by Merriam Webster, is "one attached to another by respect or affection." And even that precise explanation sometimes sounds impotent and weak when we are describing the importance of those who are closest to us.

I Was A Bridesmaid

Billie Jo and Travis Sawyer with daughter Julia Alice just 24 hours after her birth. [Photo by Sue Bush]
I met my best friend, Billie Jo, on July 7, 1996. We were both getting our young, eager feet wet [perhaps "drenched" is a better word] at brand-new jobs with a local finance company. Both of us were freshly graduated from college, and we were both ready to make our mark on the business world.

We learned a lot about the oh-so-exciting world of finance and far more about what college didn't teach us.

But without question, the biggest benefit that job in finance handed me was Billie Jo's friendship.

For 3½ years we were an exceptionally dynamic duo [in our eyes, of course]. Then Mr. Travis Sawyer decided to make an honest woman of Billie Jo.

They married in 1999.

They were a couple. I was a bridesmaid.

And then they moved to New Hampshire.

We stayed in touch -sort of - via e-mails and a few scattered visits to New Hampshire. I’m kind of ashamed now that I didn’t make a more concerted effort to spend time with her. I'm ashamed that I fell prey to those time-tested bug-a-boo's "time" and "distance."

And with time, our emotional distances very often catch up with us.

Highs Ands Lows

In 2003, some major events delivered our friendship a one-two punch, with Billie Jo experiencing a great joy and me, well, let's just say not so much joy came 'round for me.

Billie Jo and Travis welcomed their first child, a son they named Kolby.

For me, a construction project failed: a "house of cards" I'd been building around my heart and my life collapsed, and trust me, it wasn't aces all 'round.

When the spades and clubs are covering all the hearts and diamonds, it is time to review and reassess.

I started to re-evaluate what was important in my life and my friendship with Billie Jo was near the pinnacle of my list. Since she and her family had moved back to the Northern Berkshires, the "distance" was removed and believe me, I made the time for the friendship.

Billie Jo is best described in a word and that word is "awesome."

The Art Of Gifting

She tells you what is on her mind, up-front, up-close and personal, and she lives in the moment. She has a wicked sense of humor and a way of putting people at ease from the very first encounter. She listens to my rants about everything and anything. Sometimes, she offers advice. Other times, OK, many times, she tells me to chill.

And she knows exactly the best gifts to give.

In 2005, her son Zack was born, and that event generated a wonderful gift for me. Billie Jo asked me to be Zack’s godmother.

A godparent is someone who is part of the child’s life forever- by invitation! - and is charged with providing a positive influence on the godchild as the years pass. My heart was filled with pride and emotion- Billie Jo valued my friendship as much as I valued hers!

Just a few months ago, I mentioned to Billie Jo that I was rather envious of her. She was pregnant with her third child and I confessed that I was feeling bummed because I probably wasn’t going to experience giving birth and being a mother.

And just that quick, she invited me to be in the delivery room. I hesitated for just a moment and then said "Yes!"

She kept me involved. We attended expectant parent classes together. For her, it was all rather old news but for me it was a brand-new look at life. I was invited to accompany Billie Jo during one of her final, countdown-to-delivery obstetrician appointments.

I’m sure Doc O’Neill was a little shocked to see me there instead of Travis, but he was very pleasant and answered my questions. And I have to tell you it was a lot of fun watching Billie Jo give Doc O’Neill a hard time.

Chance Of A Lifetime And I Was Late

On Tuesday morning, March 6th, Billie Jo was admitted to the maternity unit at North Adams Regional Hospital at 7:00 a.m. for an induced delivery. I got to the hospital at 7:20 cause God, along with almost everyone I've ever met, knows I can never, ever, be punctual.

During the first two hours, after a Pitocin IV had been started, we joked and talked and I tried to mentally prepare myself for the birthing stages that lie ahead. The contractions grew stronger. She was in a lot of pain, and it was difficult to observe. An epidural-block anesthesia was administered.

It helped....a lot.

Labor And Lip-Gloss

Billie Jo handled everything beautifully. I was in awe of her ability to keep from cursing her husband through the contractions, in awe of her ability to look radiant and confident throughout the entire process. [I mean, hello, you do know where babies come from.]

I was in awe of her ability to apply lip-gloss every so often, but then again, she was going to be on camera.

As noontime closed in, Doc O’Neill told her it was time to push. I snapped to full attention. What was my role, how could I best serve? Would I observe and take photos, or would I assist with coaching?

I coached, I think.

"Breathe! Breathe!"...And I Did

As the pushing progressed, I tried to offer words of inspiration.

But I could barely draw my own breath, never mind offer encouragement. At one point Billie Jo took over the coaching: "Come on, Sharon, breathe, breathe!"

I felt like I was dreaming. I watched with a heart too full to measure as first, a tiny head emerged followed by shoulders, arms, legs.... and IT'S A GIRL!

Little Julia Alice Sawyer came into the world and strengthened a circle of love the moment she arrived.

A Space For Julia

Julia Alice Sawyer: The Power Of One

As I watched Julia being readied to fill the eager arms of her mother and father, I was overwhelmed by the birth and the knowledge that I'd been given a truly wonderful gift. Could it get any better than this?

Oh, yes, yes, it could.

Travis handed me Julia. What do you say to a newborn who, moments prior, had found an empty space in your heart and said "hey, look, there's room for me!"

Emotions poured over me. Fortunately, or maybe not, I had a meeting to attend so no one saw the drops of joy cascade over my face.

If Life Hands You Dirty Diapers, Say Thank You

And as I reflect on Julia's birth-day and my friendship with Billie Jo, I am flooded with insight: true, deep and abiding love encompasses far more than romance and flowers. It is about creating families who can climb mountains of challenge and dirty diapers to discover the joy in life and then share that joy with the friends they've made along the way.

I used to think the song "That's What Friends Are For" was a sappy, syrupy, musical confection that might actually have the capacity to damage one's teeth.

But now, well, now I guess I won’t mind hearing Dionne Warwick croon “That’s What Friends Are For” anymore.

I might even add it to my i-pod!
Your Comments
Post Comment
You always have a wonderful insight into what's important in life. Keep going strong, Sharon; the world (especially women!) needs you!
from: Karen G-Pon: 03-12 00:00:00-2007

Great article, Sharon. If you wrote a book, I'd read it!
from: Kristin Con: 03-12 00:00:00-2007

Another great story, yet again! I was tempted to say hello last Wed (or was it tuesday...hmmm) morning, in North Adams, but I wasn't sure you recognized me! Be safe and keep up the great stories!
from: Shawn G.on: 03-11 00:00:00-2007

rarely does a column say so much so well about friendship and being female. excellent, excelent, excellent.
from: Maddieon: 03-11 00:00:00-2007

Looks like this weekend was proved to be greatly productive...despite your heart being crushed by George's cancellation!! Great article Sharon!
from: Jenon: 03-11 00:00:00-2007

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