I’ve always had a strict rule of only friending people on Facebook that I know well. Over the years I allowed exactly two exceptions to that rule: the new husband of a long-time friend, and a fellow author recommended by a trusted friend. My rule has served me well for years…until now.
Since the election, I’ve been feeling my way on how to respond. I have hope that this greatest country the world has ever known…Reagan’s shining city on a hill…will find areas of common ground and overcome its great divide to move forward on important issues. But I’m also left with very specific concerns. I’m concerned that health care will suddenly be made inaccessible to my teenage daughter, who so desperately needs it, but who is uninsurable given her health history. I’m concerned that long-term, otherwise law-abiding immigrants will be deported, breaking up millions of families against the will of 90% of Americans. I’m concerned that trade protectionism will hurt the U.S. economy and our standing in the world. And I’m concerned that the progress we’ve made toward acceptance of all races and religions and lifestyles will be reversed.
And so I’ve begun connecting with groups who are taking these issues on, banding together to ensure that our government doesn’t believe it has a mandate in these areas. And in so doing, I suddenly have Facebook friends who are strangers. I may never meet them, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t already know them, at least a little. There’s the mother of 3 small children from Massachusetts who believes fervently in social justice. There’s the Stanford professor who’s fighting to ensure that the science to which she’s dedicated her life continues to have a voice in our government. And there’s the wife of Obama’s head of the Center of Medicare and Medicaid Services, working to protect health care for the most vulnerable Americans. We’ve never met. We have no mutual friends. We have no shared experience. But we share a vision for our country and our families. Because of that, they are not strangers.
“Truth stands, even if there be no public support. It is self-sustained.” –Mahatma Gandhi
This week I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen for awhile. She’s originally from Romania, but has been living in Brazil the last couple of years. We met at orientation on day one of our new jobs; Romania is my favorite travel spot of all time, giving us an early connection that stuck. Her globetrotting life stories are so much more interesting than my Kansas girl background.
I’m beyond grateful to have had the privilege of getting to know many amazing people from all over the world. I can’t fully articulate how, but I know that they’ve changed my perspective, and positively so. I’ve had so many learnings, large and small, that stand out over the years. There’s the young Filipino woman who emigrated to New York at age 13. She told me that she still dreams in Tagalog, though she’d been in America longer than her country of birth. There’s the tall, blonde German friend who married a woman from Singapore and had two beautiful boys who looked stuck between two continents. I remember my shock at a woman from Malaysia sharing that she was reluctant to speak up in English, afraid of saying something wrong. It hadn’t occurred to her until I told her that us single-language, ethnocentric Americans were instead in awe of her ability to speak English, given how radically different it is from her native Chinese. I heard the story of how many cattle and goats were required for the dowry of a Kenyan friend’s wife, as we sat around their family dinner table outside of London. I learned how a dear friend from Brazil became the man of the house at age six, when his father was killed in a freak accident after a tree fell on his car on his way to the bank to purchase their first family home. My friend is the most courageous, fearless person I’ve ever met.
Then there’s the friend who had the privilege of traveling the world for 30 years. Though he retired to Florida from very unexotic Minnesota, his gift for story-telling about his quixotic global adventures had me in tears more than once. I still think he needs to write a book about them.
I’m scheduling coffee to catch up with my Romanian friend, now that she’s back in the States; I’m eager to hear the stories of her adventures in Brazil. And this Kansas girl’s life will be just a little richer for hearing them.
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.” –Mark Twain
Rachel Platten’s Fight Song popped up recently on my playlist. Music has an ability to retain memories, and this song took me back. A friend introduced it to me at a moment in my life when I was feeling particularly powerless. It would be an overstatement to say that the song gave me the courage to take back control of my life, though I did just that a few months later. However, it’s not an exaggeration to say that this friend and others saved my life (or at least my sanity) during that time.
Friends are an amazing invention; good friends are a godsend. They’re almost like family, but different. They make good times better and hard times tolerable. Knowing that someone cares about what I’m going through has meant simply everything when I’ve struggled to cope. One of the really cool things about friends is that there are so many kinds. There are the ones who are sympathetic, the ones who hold up a mirror and gently force me to face the truth, and the ones who make me stretch and grow. There are the ones who make me laugh and the ones who let me cry, the ones who make me feel good, the ones who teach me and make me think. They all have their place and are special in their own way. The only downside is that they don’t all last. Time and distance and life can separate us…I grieve each loss. Yet I’ve learned that even the losses have their silver lining, because they make room for new friends. With each life change, I’ve forced myself to focus not on the goodbyes, but on the new friends I haven’t yet met. So far, they’ve always been there, all for the negligible effort of reaching out.
“No friendship is an accident.” –O. Henry, Heart of the West
I hate goodbyes. I’ve tried making myself feel better by spouting the nonsense about every ending also being a beginning, but let’s be honest: they’re also endings, and endings stink.
Endings are times of reflection, when what we really care about is brought into stark relief, especially if it won’t continue through the beginning. I’m changing jobs and companies (again), and I’m faced (again) with leaving behind some wonderful people. Luckily this time I’m not moving, so it will be easier to maintain these friendships. But we can no longer grab coffee between meetings; I will have to put more effort into what had been too easy before. I’ve been through this enough times to know that not all of these relationships will survive our good intentions.
I’ve also learned by now that, while sad, this is ok. These wonderful people made a difference in my life when I needed them. They listened, made me laugh, let me cry. And when I unexpectedly think of them, even years later, I will smile again. If I am really lucky, their memory of me will do the same. Yes, it is ok; that is enough. In fact, it is everything.
“Remember me and smile, for it’s better to forget than to remember me and cry.” –Dr. Seuss
“Are we all one?” is the final question in Matador’s “20 Questions for Every Spiritual Seeker”. The answer feels so deceptively simple that I wonder what I’m missing. My “no” answer feels sad, on both a personal and community level, and begs the question of how to achieve this goal? All of human history includes so much brokenness in relationships that it’s difficult to be optimistic on this subject. We all crave more unity. During tragedy, the best in us often comes out to confront our worst, and we show that we can pull together in ways big and small. The most important Nobel Prize is reserved for those who bring people together. But one look at the headlines of any single day are discouraging. It seems all too terribly clear that we are not all one.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can, and do, make connections on a personal level. For most of us, this begins with the family we’re born into, and then transitions to friends, and then, eventually, to a new family that we create of our own choosing. Even then, our fears and insecurities and flaws interfere with our relationships, straining and sometime breaking them. Not being alone is, itself, a constant battle.
As I’ve gotten older and a little wiser, I’ve found more success in my relationships simply by reminding myself that we’re all flawed. We each bear our own, unique weaknesses as complements to our strengths. Accepting the flaws in others is the price we pay for not being alone, of being accepted in return. When I really think about it, Love seems the only way to a life worth living.
“We’re born alone, we die alone. Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we’re not alone.” –Orson Welles
I said goodbye to a dear friend this month. I hate goodbyes, I really do. It’s not as if my friend is dropping off the face of the Earth, but it will be different now. This is the only part of friendship I don’t like.
This was my first Arkansas friend when we moved here, going back to day two of my new job. You know how you click immediately with some people? This was that. We’ve shared a lot in three years. This friend has seen more of my tears than anyone outside of my family; I’m beyond grateful for his friendship and support. I’m happy for his new opportunity and life, but I sure will miss him. Recent news at work has us realizing more goodbyes are likely coming.
This week was the one year anniversary of closure for the family of a friend and his son, lost in a tragic hiking accident. The overwhelming online support on this anniversary was a fresh reminder of the loss their family feels every day. I remain in awe at the small band of heroes who regularly risked their own safety for three months to bring two strangers home to rest.
I wrapped up this week at a funeral, where a young friend and her toddler daughter unexpectedly said goodbye to her young husband. That’s the worst kind of goodbye. The only thing that keeps senseless losses like these from driving me literally crazy is the profound hope that, while lifelong, these goodbyes are not permanent. We will all meet again.
All of this has made for a reflectful week, for what I’m thankful for and what really matters. I’ve put a card in the mail to a friend dealing with loss who I’ve been thinking about. I’m hugging my family more and being less cranky with them. And I’m going to go visit my parents today, just because…because there are goodbyes.
“Why can’t we get all the people together in the world that we really like and then just stay together? I guess that wouldn’t work. Someone would leave. Someone always leaves. Then we would have to say goodbye. I hate goodbyes. I know what I need. I need more hellos.” –Charles Schulz
“Goodbyes make you think. They make you realize what you’ve had, what you’ve lost, and what you’ve taken for granted.” –Ritu Ghatourey
I received three unexpected pieces of snail mail from friends over the last few weeks, each of which made my day. I had forgotten the joy that mail used to bring before email and social media made it nearly obsolete. I don’t want to forget again.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for social media. It’s allowed me to reconnect with friends who’d slipped away, and to stay connected to others thousands of miles or oceans away. I am sure most of these dear people would have stayed part of my past before today’s technology. Instead, they remain in my life, even if in only in small snippets. Many of them still make me smile just by being them, exactly why they were part of my life in the first place.
In spite of the positives, we gave something up when we moved away from letters. A Facebook post is like a piece of hard candy…short and sweet…while a good letter is far more substantial. It proves that someone thought enough of you to take the still short but meaningful five or ten minutes to dig out pen, paper, and envelope, and sit down to compose their thoughts. Lately, I’m increasingly nostalgic and grateful for the holes, large and small, filled by so many people in my life. They are worth so much more to me than the 49 cents and ten minutes a letter would take. I believe I will start taking that ten minutes a month to begin thanking them, one at a time. It will take the rest of my life; I have a large debt to repay.
“Without ’tis autumn, the wind beats on the pane,
With heavy drops, the leaves high upwards sweep.
You take old letters from a crumpled heap,
And in one hour have lived your life again.” –Mihai Eminescu