Recently, in a moment of brainlessness and thoughtlessness, I did something which has impacted the friendship of two friends whom I care about greatly. It was a relatively new friendship, not one of months or years but the companionship grew fast and I believe the enjoyment of each other’s company was heartfelt by the three of us. We shared very good times and laughter and stories. In fact, I would say that in a very short time I grew to love them both a lot.
We came together when we all needed someone or something. I had been living and working here for about 7 months. My apartment – a three bedroom flat in a controlled access building - was centrally located in town, about 10 minutes walking distance from the plaz (the center of town and business district) and 20 minutes from our main work location. They were new to the community and they were looking for housing, dealing with a very new and different culture, while one was dealing with a new job where I also worked. That is how we met.
While searching for a house to make their home and balancing the strangeness of where they had landed, they were bouncing around local hotels with huge bags and belongings. Having extra space, one day I said, “Come stay at my place. Stay as long as you need until you find an apartment or house. No big deal. Stay as long as you like. No commitments. Just come and chill and get your bearings.” So they did.
I did not know at that time what pleasure we would find in each other’s company and laughter we would share. We probably couldn’t fathom the upcoming enjoyment we would find in cooking for each other and telling stories and histories. And I did not know that I would open my heart and my little box of secrets and sadness to them. To me they were, and still, are angels who brought light and the chance to start healing.
In short time they located an apartment and after the required 4 to 6 week wait they moved to their home with my blessings and love. I joined them for dinner one of the first nights there and two of us drank most of a whole bottle of 15 year old Dalwinnie scotch.
Then one day, I did something that brought things to an immediate halt. What I did isn’t important, although I will readily confess to it being something that probably hurt them in ways I would never have thought. It was an act of thoughtlessness – in the true definition of the word, to be without any thought. It is something I will regret until I pass from this earth because to me, they are still dear and cherished friends.
Yet that incident – and couple more that have arisen in the past week – has given me time to mediate on what is this thing we call “friendship” and what is this thing we call love; what do others mean when they use these terms and what does it mean to me.
Friends. I know people who have hundreds of friends. They tell me that because that is their “friend” count on Facebook. People I know are friends with they have never met, would not recognize on the street, have never had a moment of personal, unscripted interaction with but they became “friends” with the click of a button. The laughter they shared is a LOL or HAHAH on-line. The support these friends give is a comment like “It’s going to be OK” and “I know how you feel” or “I care about you, it will get better.” How are these actions the same as sharing a moment when you laugh so hard you get tears in your eyes, or when you need someone, they hug and hold you? What can compare to those times when you get an unexpected card, letter, or phone call from an old and cherished friend?
There are friends and then there are friends. We all have work friends; the people who occupy the same work environment 8 to 9 hours a day, 5 days a week until they quit and leave. Then they are gone, seldom to enter our thoughts again. We get ready for work friends with friends from school. Most of them disappear from our lives once the immediacy of the situation changes, some last a while but most fade away quickly as college or work or families take them along a different path.
Even if you live in the same city your entire life, your friends have probably ebbed and flowed from your circle of interaction over time. Life brings change; life is change. And as people change, they grow, and the circumstances of their personal relationships change and grow. Single people find other single people, they become couples, couples become spouses and then become families. People shift in their political views and religious practices or orientations; they grow interests in activities or let their interest wane. People get married and start careers; sometimes people leave those marriages and careers. Couples with children find new circles of friends as their children progress in school and become involved in school activities with their friends. Some people find themselves in the trap of drugs and/or alcohol and their circle of friends can change drastically.
Each of these life changes, the choices we make in our lives, can result in a slow or sudden change in our circle of friends. Over the last 40 years, I have lived in 6 states, 8 geographically different cities and on two different continents. Earlier in my life, the move from one state to another was just another adventure. The opportunity to see part of the United States not yet explored. New major cities, Kansas City and Milwaukee brought new experiences and different people in my life. A chance for urban lifestyle for a kid from a small rural community was intoxicating. Time was filled with friends at restaurants, theater, clubs, dinner parties and other diversions. Other places where I spent time were smaller university towns such as Bloomington, Indiana, Columbia, Missouri and Lawrence, Kansas. These brought me into contact with new ideas and the opportunity to meet academicians, other students, poets and writers of major cultural influence (Ginsberg, Burrows and others of the beat movement). The people I met, the friends I made, fed a part of me that thrived and grew with the experiences and they fed a creativeness I have never been able to recapture.
I too cherish these memories. The people I have worked with, lived around, fished with and studied with has a special and warm place in my thoughts of the past. I smile when I think of my best friend in 6th and 7th and 8th grade who was also the best man at my wedding. The time I spent hitch-hiking from Northern Indiana to Florida with another dear friend and the adventures we shared along the Atlantic coast still makes me laugh. All the people with whom I have shared office stories and bitches about the management, they bring a rich tapestry to my life today.
Yet that over these 50 years, from the dozens to maybe a hundred different people I met, how many would I consider as friend, someone with whom I have routine and frequent contact? Just a handful.
A couple of years ago, I joined Facebook. At that site there were people I had not seen or talked to for over 40 years. We became “Facebook friends” but I don’t know what that meant. I cannot say what that meant to them either. I think that, for them, I was their “friend” from High School; a concept of me that was buried in a time capsule of a memory and 40 years later pulled from the concrete like an object or news clipping.
One of my favorite quotes is, “A man who views the world the same at fifty as he did at twenty has wasted thirty years of his life.” I know that who I AM today is not what I WAS. In many, many ways I am nothing like I was at 18 years of age; in many ways the way I am right now, today, is not the same as I was several months ago.
So who are was this “friends” of theirs now rediscovered – just an idea, some stories from the past, a figment of their imagination and a construct of various memories. I can promise you that even 40 years ago, they didn’t know me. I don’t know if anybody did. They knew who showed up in school or the party. Who they think I was, was the public persona, not what was within me kept hidden away. It was even hidden away from me.
And how can they “know” me now? They can’t. They can only relate to me as that idea of who I was. I am a memory to them. The fact that I am in many ways very different probably cannot be fathomed by most. The Glass Menagerie opens with the following: "The scene is memory and is therefore nonrealistic. Memory takes a lot of poetic license. It omits some details; others are exaggerated, according to the emotional value of the articles it touches, for memory is seated predominantly in the heart.”
Memories do not exist in the manner we want to believe: ironclad and firmly rooted in the truth of the past. They are a hodge-podge of impressions, fleeting thoughts and snips of conversation. As a memory, I do not exist outside of that frozen snippet of time. They do not know me as I have become.
In the English book of Moses, when he ascends the mountain and faces God he asks what is your name and God replies, “I am who I am”. But in the Hebrew “Ehyeh asher ehyeh“ literally translates as "I Will Be What I Will Be". I have always preferred this over the King James. This is how I see people. This is how I see myself. We are all in the process of becoming what we will be, who we are isn’t who we were, we are is not what we will eventually become either. I have studied and learned, I have looked within myself to see who this person is and examined my relationship to that greatness that is beyond all comprehension. I have moved around the country and across the sea.
The Glass Menagerie closes with this spoken by the narrator as he leaves his mother and crippled sister, “I didn't go to the moon, I went much further—for time is the longest distance between two places”. To those friends from years ago, I must inform you that the distance I have travelled from the small town in Indiana across the US and now Europe comes nowhere close to the distance I have in time from that person you thought you knew.
Those few individuals who have allowed me the privilege of time in their lives, sometimes sporadic but always within a phones ring, have accepted me as the person I was as well as the person I have become. They are all special in my life, a blessing where time and distance has no impact. Even with months between calls, a telephone rings and a dormant connection of the hearts awaken. We knew each other; we know each other. We have been friends when life was both hard and uncertain and during the halcyon days of the past.
From ee cummings, i carry your heart:
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)
My friends, regardless of the circumstances surrounding our lives today, I carry them with me in my heart. I know how these friends, their laughter and support and counsel, shaped and guided me to who I am today. I would have to say that I love them in the memories I have of them. And these few and wonderful, deep friends to whom I have opened my heart, with whom I have shared laughter and tears, trials and glorious victories, with whom I have travelled through the land of youth toward that final horizon, I have and always will hold them in my heart with a deep and abiding love and devotion that will be carried with me on my final adventure.
And as I have mediated on this current misunderstanding with my friends in search of its meanings and lessons, I realized that for me, this is heart of love: to allow a person to grow in the ways and manner that fills their heart and in a way that helps them find acceptance and peace in your company and companionship; to allow them to live in a state of unconditional love where grace and forgiveness springs forth without the need to ask.
All relationships encounter periods of stress and disagreement because we are all different people with a complex personal history, multitude of experiences, viewpoints and understanding. Even when we all speak the same language, we attributed different meanings and interpretations to words and phrases. I have come to think that the Tower of Babel was not so much a story of how different languages were born, but how even when we use the same language, there is the persistent seed of misunderstanding, miscommunication and confusion.
There will be broken hearts and hurt feelings because our communications are flawed. There will be broken hearts and bruised feeling because many of us place parameters on our love. We love someone because of how they make us feel, because they are sexy or funny or smart or they provide comfort and security. We put expectations and boundaries on our love with approvals or disapprovals and our attempts to shape and mold behavior. Most do not see how they hand out love and acceptance like small candy treats, until they examine the cause of their heartbreaks and disappointments. A loved one’s actions cause of pain because they are doing things that beyond our control but who examines the expectations they had of that person as the root of their own pain. We are hurt most by those we love because it is those individuals who actions sting and disappoint the most, the ones who can seemingly betray us and our belief in them, by acting or doing things beyond our control.
But to cast off those parameters – the expectations of tit-for-tat, to love someone for the shear act of loving someone – would be unfathomable to many. It is something that defies most of our ideas and perceptions of love. But that is how God loves us and that is what God would like each of us to do, to open our hearts to others and love even those with whom we have parted ways. God has asked us not to judge because within all judgment lies the razor of disagreement and division of hearts. And God has always asked us to forgive because in when we forgive, we heal them and ourselves.
I can only hope that with time, which can heal hurt feelings and broken hearts, I will once again find the companionship of my friends. But I love I let them go, and in love and with a joyful noise I will love them if they return.