In the photo above she may look like a bad ass, but that’s the ultimate beauty of my friend forever, Colleen Van Spankeren; one day she looks as soft and as elegant as she truly is, at the next she is doing a physical feat that would make many grown men cry.
As a writer and a lover of people, one of the most challenging pieces to write are about someone you love more than words.
How does one write a story about an amazing human being whom you know her heart well enough to know how extremely humble–and even more private she is?
Maybe then, instead I will share with you the moment I knew this woman was going to be my friend forever.
The day I truly knew that this woman was going to be my BFF was not, in fact, the day she brought me muffins shortly after we moved into our new homes next door to each other on Tuscany Ridge almost 16 years ago, nor was it the unforgettable and infamous longest 30 minutes of her life, when she took on the job of listening to my baby monitor for my child who had seizures while I went to pick up my son from preschool.
It didn’t happen when she drove my children home from school everyday when they were young, until the school was built in our backyard, with the mutual agreement that 7:00 actually means 7:20ish.
It wasn’t even when she let me cut her hair – seriously – nor when she bought me a Charlie’s Angels board game or the custom made guitar strap for Christmas; she has learned to be prepared with the perfect gift ever since my son wandered over to her house the very first Christmas in the cul-de-sac to pick up our Christmas gift and came home with a whisk full of candy.
It was not the morning I phoned her to tell her my daughter, Marina, passed away, even though besides my mom, she was the first call I made.
It didn’t happen when she was the first to buy each of my books or when she joined me in the most recent “cleanse” or trusted me when I told her that I had a dream. Nor was it each time she encouraged me to continue on; it’s not because she has always believed in me.
It did not happen on our various days and nights out as I took her to football, she took me to hockey; I took her to the smaller theatre, she took me to Broadway and ballet. Nor did it happen during the many precious giggles and even more precious tears we shared over the fence, over a fire, or over wine, coffee, lunch or dinner.
It does not involve how she managed to get this girl who is afraid of heights up a climbing wall, and allowed me to be her tether; even though if we were on a real rock I would have killed her 8 times, and then she further inspired me to face my fears by swinging on a trapeze and head straight down the kamikaze tube at the Sylvan Lake waterslides.
It wasn’t when I looked over at my friend, eight months pregnant with her third child, in our yoga class balancing on a ball, or the first time I got to hold that same baby.
It wasn’t when I watched in fear and amazement as Colleen rapelled down the side of a Calgary high-rise building dressed in a superhero costume, to raise money for a children’s camp; nor when I saw her head out each day diligently training for a marathon.
Although I am in awe of her circus abilities and proudly declare that my BFF is a circus star, student, and instructor at the Calgary Circus Studio, it’s not the strength of her body, mind, and character as she accomplishes the most beautiful, yet very difficult physical feats that she can do because of her focus, determination and balance. The moments I was honoured to witness her do these things were not the moments I knew.
It was not each time she grounded me with her faith and loyalty to God, her family and her friends. Not because she is my friend I can say “pray for me” and I know she will.
But we are getting closer…
It was not when we tried to organize book clubs, dress clubs and golf clubs. Not when we planned to apply for The Amazing Race; as long as I ate the bugs, she would take on the heights, until we decided we needed to finish the amazing race we started in our homes first.
It is not because Colleen is a great partner; I have even asked her to marry me many times over the years even though she has been happily married for almost 22 years; the first time was after started my lawn mower when I couldn’t get it going, and again when I saw her truck jacked up in her garage ready for her to change her flat tire. It was not because she helped me raise my children; when they younger I knew if they were MIA I could walk along the back fence and would find them sitting in her kitchen nook having a snack.
It was not when she said that her greatness perhaps is meant to come out in her children, and her ability to see and bring out the greatness in everyone around her. It wasn’t when our friend Shannon Duke made us tell each other what we most admired about each other and then stated that we would not be able to see those strengths unless we beheld them in ourselves; proving her own ability to take risks and the greatness that shines through her gift of seeing others’. Nor when we stood beside each other sharing Kleenex at Shannon’s funeral.
This was the day
The day I learned that faithful, loyal, loving, determined, focused, level headed and balanced Colleen Van Spankeren would be my friend forever, was the day I learned that Colleen was the most competitive person I had ever met.
To have your curling skip the most completive person in the world while I, her fourth who has not a competitive bone in my body, chatted up the competition – and we lost the game – it very well could have been the end of a friendship right there.
But that day, once again, I was in awe.
I feel like it’s always about embracing what it is that you think is wrong with you. It’s often times your greatest ‘flaw’ which actually forays into what is also your greatest strength. Olivia Thirlby
I actually sat in silence when she phoned me after the game to apologize, and then a little giggle escaped from my mouth.
After five years of flaunting my insurmountable flaws and asserting my friendship on her because she had to, she was my next-door neighbor – she even hung in there even after I tied a rope through my backyard and hung my laundry one summer – SHE was sorry? That’s it? That’s all she’s got? That’s her worst? That was her biggest flaw?
I told her I had been wondering if she had any flaws, and if that was it, then I am one lucky gal to have a friend whose self-professed blemish was one thing that I wish I had more of.
That was the moment I knew… I fell in love with her true self, even her “great flaw”…forever.
The word Colleen chose to sum up what she most desires in each of the aspects of wellness is balance. She finds beauty in her children, and the simple moments sitting by the fire on a clear, silent summer night in Invermere with her family and friends.
She is inspired when she sees others doing things she would like to do.
Her children make her smile, and she also smiles remembering the moment she did an in-your-face celebration when we did kick some butt at a game of curing.
Thank you Colleen for being my perfect balance.