Nine years ago, seven women and I decided to start a book club.

We’d loosely met through the elementary school our kids attended, but none of us knew each other very well. The thinnest of ties — moms’ clubs, PTAs, child-centric activities — bound us.

I hosted our first meeting. I made mushroom-artichoke lasagna and a peach cheesecake (a brick-heavy combination if ever there was one). We discussed Dean Bakopoulos’s Please Don’t Come Back From The Moon. I’d prepared a list of questions, which we dwelt on for almost two hours.

The next month, Ginger hosted. We discussed The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl. We ate chicken enchiladas and focused our discussion almost exclusively on book club kinds of questions.

And so it went, month after month.

But a funny thing happened as time progressed. We stopped focusing solely on our books (those written lists of questions quickly bit the literary dust) and started focusing on each other. Dinners were enjoyed. Wine was drunk. Real friendships were forged.

Nine years ago, we put our best selves forward.

Tonight (our anniversary date), we’ll just be ourselves.

An almost-decade will do that to you. Time has a way of cutting through artifice and pretension and hypocrisy. Over the years, we’ve celebrated each other’s milestones (children leaving for college) and blessings (adoption). But we’ve also rallied around each other through sickness (cancer) and death (parents; siblings). We’ve shared parenting advice and foibles; professional successes and fears. We’ve laughed until tears come to our eyes.

We’ve blinked away tears.

We can get on each other’s nerves. (“What do you mean you don’t like my book?”) But each one of these ladies has given me a nugget of truth and beauty that I consider each day:

  • From Ginger, I’ve learned that will and determination can overcome the direst of circumstances.
  • From Karen, I’ve learned to forgive myself.
  • From Carol I’ve learned that not all my children’s problems are “mom” problems.
  • From Sharon, I’ve learned there’s no hand that guides quite like a mother’s.
  • From Maureen I’ve learned that love is a choice.
  • From Traci, that reaching a goal isn’t nearly as crucial as the journey toward attaining it.
  • And from Margaret, dear Margaret, I’ve seen the power of strength and optimism and quiet beauty in the face of devastation.

I can’t remember the last time our book club spent an evening talking about a book. Yes, we’re still avid readers.

But we’re better friends.