In the end, of course, you will take what life offers,
but often life offers more to people who ask more of it.
—Garrison Keillor as Mr. Blue
When I landed in Florence for a semester abroad in January 2002, I didn’t have a ready-made friend group to fall into. I can’t recall without digging out my old journals how I was doing emotionally in those first few days and weeks, but I do remember how excited I was to be living in a 17th-century villa with a cappuccino bar downstairs. (RIGHT?! That cappuccino got me halfway through my practice novel, but that’s another story.)
I also very clearly remember, in late January or early February, taking a phone call in the cafe area long after the barista had left for the night. I’d met Aravinda on a school trip to D.C. the previous year, and although we hadn’t quite become friends yet, she was having an issue with her roommates (in an off-campus apartment) and needed to talk it out. They were telling jokes that were upsetting her, and even after she explained why she was upset (without getting into it, I can tell you that she was totally justified in her reaction), the roommates and their friends carried on as if she hadn’t said a word. As I listened to her speak so openly of her hurt and frustration, I realized that I really, really wanted to be her friend. She trusted me to listen, and because she’d reacted to the situation just as I would have in her place, I knew I could trust her back.
We were friends from that night onward, and had lots of adventures in Italy together (and later on, in Ireland and Greece). Since she recently married a wonderful man named Nevin (which is why I was in San Francisco last month), I thought I’d take this opportunity to honor our friendship and all that I’ve learned from it.
Aravinda is one of the very smartest and most exuberant people I know, which is a (rare) personality combo I’ve always found invigorating. I’ve made many friends over the years I’ve wanted to be more like, but my friendship with Min was the first in which I was mature enough to realize this consciously.
People who know me in 2013 probably wouldn’t peg me for an introvert (I’m an INFP, by the way), but being more friendly and open and outgoing is something I’ve consciously worked towards over the past decade. Looking back on my childhood and young adulthood, I see I was often fearful—afraid to express myself, to stick my neck out, to try new things instead of judging them. My perfectionism, too, kept me within a relatively narrow range of experience; for instance, when I got to Italy, I was so intent on speaking Italian properly that I never got around to having an actual conversation for all my hesitations. Aravinda, on the other hand, chatted away with every Italian she met, including my cousins in Sapri (on the Amalfi coast) when I took her to visit them.
Did Aravinda care if she got the grammar wrong, or used a wonky cognate from her years of high-school French?
Guess which of us my Italian cousins enjoyed talking to more!
I watched her in these interactions, and wished I could be like her: so articulate and enthusiastic she almost literally sparkled, candid to a fault—and yet, on the whole, she did not care what anyone might think of her. She was the first friend to read my early writing, marking up my chapters and often telling me, “This is good, but you can do better.” I loved her for her frankness, because I knew she cared enough to tell me the truth.
Most of all, Aravinda was never afraid to ask for anything she needed or wanted, and before I knew her it had never really occurred to me that I could (and should!) do the same. But it makes sense, doesn’t it, that if you want to be a person who has good self esteem, you begin by making friends with kind and honest people who already have it? By the tender age of twenty Aravinda had already mastered the prime directive of Richard Bach’s Illusions (which you’ll find at the top of this page, because it is the simplest and most perfect advice ever): she was who she is, calm and clear and bright.
Lucky for me, some of that sparkle has rubbed off. Today I’m the person I wanted to be back then, and it has a lot to do with my friendship with Minnie Minster. More than she knows, I bet. There are many varieties of friendship, but the best kind offers both friends a continual opportunity to grow into better versions of themselves.
Aravinda is such a rare and lovely bird that to be perfectly honest, I doubted for a long time if there was a guy out there good enough for her. Here’s something else I love about who I am these days: I actually enjoy being proven wrong.
Wedding photography by Ian Chin.