Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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Posts Tagged ‘friend’

Gardening and Friendship

In an airport, once again, traveling between friends and family, family and friends. Sadly, I’m on my own for these couple of legs. This “sandwich generation” stuff is getting harder by the day. MCO to BOS this morning as I travel from the funeral of my best friend’s Dad to what looks like an abridged version of the annual White Family Cape Cod adventure. We are down one parent, too, and the next generation is in the early stages of careers and families of their own which makes it difficult to get away for a week on the beach. My journey is solo as Mrs. bingo awaits the arrival of the Man Cub’s little sister who begins her own journey any day now.

In the middle of the sandwich, where we welcome babies into the family as we say goodbye to parents who leave, we hopefully share this stage with at least one good friend, and hopefully for our longevity three or more (turns out that’s a magic number). In addition to a brother with whom I cannot be closer and my darling bride with whom I could not be more in love, my journey has been blessed with a best friend who has ridden shotgun or been my driver for 40 years now. We have taken turns carrying each other whenever one of us needed the lift. Mostly we’ve just walked side by side, as friends do..

Friendship is on my mind quite often. I ponder it as I think about friends old and new. My 35th college reunion was a month or so ago, and I am pleasantly surprised at the number of old friends and friendly acquaintances who are emerging from the mists of my past. Misplaced, lost, or cast aside, the skeletons of friendships past walk with me, still.

We are blessed, fortunate beyond measure, if we can count among the masses a single friend. One to whom we can always turn, from whom we withhold nothing, who will give to us everything. To have more than one friend such as this is to have a kind of wealth that beggars description. My parents gave one in 1961; Rob, the friend who just lost his Dad, showed up in 1978.

If we are lucky enough to have such friends they are joined in the garden of our lives by that next best thing, friendly acquaintances, and these in turn are surrounded by acquaintances. The entire garden is encircled by farmland that lies, for the moment at least, unexplored. The enterprising gardener is always on alert for new seedlings out there to plant in that garden of friendship.

The garden analogy is an apt one for friendship. A garden requires tending and so, too, does a friendship. Left untended, left to chance, it is certainly possible for a garden to flourish. All too often both gardens and friendships ignored too long have a beauty that is but a cherished memory, seen only with the mind’s eye.

Friendship, like a garden, grows best when exposed to both sun AND rain, albeit for different reasons. A friendship that has known only sunny days may weather that first storm; a friendship that has known both sun and rain is steeled against any and all weather, especially if we gardeners were active in the tending despite the elements. So it has been for my friends and me.

Who is your friend? Who is there for you in both sunshine and rain? From whom do you wish only friendship, and who asks only the same from you? Have you done your part? Have you tended your garden in both sunshine AND rain?

I am in an airport, leaving my friend and headed toward my brother. It’s raining; we are all missing our Dad. But we have tended these gardens for decades. The sun will come out soon enough.

A 35th Reunion: Sunday musings 6/11/17

Sunday musings…

1) Tech. There are no longer any toll booths on the Mass Pike. Big Brother simply knows you were there.

2) NoNo. Meeting up with ages-old friends in our mid-50′s the topic of what children will call grandparents came up. The best one? “NoNo”. Can’t you just see how this one happens? That Mom who had all kinds of rules when you were a kid following behind the toddlers and telling them “no, no” every time they pick something up?

Not a one of us had the guts to let that one stand, but every single one of us thought about it.

3) Name. What’s in a name, eh? I met the husband of a long-time ago friend this weekend for the first time. (As an aside, we would be friends who saw each other all the time if we lived closer). The last name was different from my friend’s maiden name, but something was just a little bit more than different. After looking and looking I finally asked. Turns out these two wonderful people just couldn’t bear to give up their family names, but at the same time they wanted a shared last name for their own family.

No hyphens for them; they just put their names together and started with a new, shared name. How lovely.

4) Beginning. Beth and I are cruising along the highway on our way to my primordial home. We just spent the weekend in the company of many of my college classmates at a 35th college reunion. Such a funny tradition, coming together every 5 years to remember times so long past in a place that pretends it is always and ever as it was when we were there (my alma mater is 224 years old). A part of you kind of expects that you and everyone else will be just like you were when you showed up for Freshman Days, your role and your place as immutable as it is when you go to a family reunion.

And you arrive and realize that neither you nor any of your classmates bear more than a passing resemblance to the children who were emptied out of the family wagon 39 years earlier.

5 years ago I was doing just exactly what I’m about now, writing about my Reunion. My abiding sense that day was of opportunity missed (there were a bunch of folks I really met for the first time at my 30th who I wished I’d known in school). This year? It’s funny, really. Along with fantastic, ridiculous and over-the-top success and prosperity, the most interesting among us were those whose victories were balanced by challenges that maybe didn’t turn out so well. There was a certain humility that I don’t remember from years past which came out as we talked about our marriages, our children, and for some of us our grandchildren. It was very nice, actually, openly and honestly sharing those kinds of things with peers who we would have felt too competitive towards in years past to take that kind of chance.

Leaving reunions has always felt like so many Brigadoon moments: always the same. Nothing new. No growth and no change. It’s different this year, for whatever reason. Driving away this time actually feels like a new beginning. Weird, huh? We are even taking a new route “home”. Off I go as if I’ve graduated once again, this time with a recalibrated sense of who I’ve become and where my friends and I fit together at the start of the rest of our lives. Reunions are meant to turn our view back, but it’s forward I look with a new appreciation for where I am rather than where I (and my classmates) used to be. Forward, consciously choosing those friendship opportunities not to miss this time around.

Some of us take a bit longer to finish college I guess.

I’ll see you next week…

–bingo

Friendship Rings

There are, I think, 5 groups of people around each one of us. True friends occupy the closest orbit, the small and intimate center of the bullseye. The next ring holds our Friendly Acquaintances, folks with whom we share happiness but not necessarily the intimacy, ease, and confidences of true friendship. Surrounding this ring is the one holding our Acquaintances, folks we simply know. Orbiting these concentric rings is a (hopefully tiny) globe of enemies; sadly we all have some. All of this floats in the vast sea of those unmet.

Do you know the difference between a “friendly acquaintance” and a friend? What draws the line for you? How many true friends do you have? What does it take for you to be someone’s friend? Is your bullseye static or dynamic? What moves people into and out of the rings in your friendship bullseye? Is there room in your bullseye for a new true friend? How do you feel when it becomes clear that someone is just a friendly acquaintance and not the friend you thought? How does it feel to make a new friend?

Beth and I have had a very dynamic bullseye of late, prompting me to return to this yet again as I try to make sense of recent events. Old friends lost and found. Discovering friendly acquaintances in our group of friends, acquaintances among our friendly acquaintances. New friends who have arrived through an open side door, unbidden and unannounced, to fill the empty spaces abandoned by others.

One can never have enough friends.

You Don’t Need That Selfie

My thoughts on the making of memories,first written 2 years ago, re-printed here in response to GoPro’s “discovery” that the selfie is harmful to your potentially most cherished memories to be.

 

“Every strike brings me closer to the next home run.” Babe Ruth.

“Friendship is the vehicle that delivers innocent people from that space between the rock and the hard place.” D.E. White

Like the Babe I’ve taken my swings, often and hard, at the corrosive effects of communication technology on human communication. For every time I’ve hit it out of the park–face to face over a glass of wine with Beth, a close friend, or one of my kids–I’ve whiffed on one that was low and outside hurled by new tech. For instance, Snapchat came and went and got sold for a Bazillion $$ before I even really knew how to use it.

Now, I’m hardly a Luddite. I’m sitting at a kitchen table littered with droppings from Steve Jobs’ imagination, pecking away at one of them while another serenades me, yet one more beckons for a response. It’s all really pretty OK though, because there’s no one here, really physically here, who wants or needs to talk to me at the moment. Even Abby, the world’s most curious Border Collie, isn’t interested in chatting.

This is not a “be here/be now” lament about focusing on the real, live person who is physically with you rather than your phone and its irresistible access to someone who is somewhere else. Nope. I lost that battle as spectacularly as any swing and a miss by the Bambino, at least on a societal level. For sure, every now and again, I hit a bloop single and get one of my kids to put down their phone and “be there” for a whole meal, but no grand slam big picture win on that one. (As an aside, who wouldn’t love to see a Sesame Street re-do of “Put down the Duckie” substuting “iPhone” for Duckie? Google it.)

This is about the most recent tech attack on the human experience as we know it–the “Selfie”. It’s not real unless you took a picture of it. You weren’t there unless you have a picture of wherever there was, whatever what was. And the most damaging of all, it wasn’t significant enough, it wasn’t truly magnificent or epic, unless you shared it with at least the first 4 degrees of separation.

The camera on your phone is stealing your memories.

But how can that possibly be? How can memorializing the momentous make my memories disappear? There are two insidious effects of the nearly compulsory grab for the phone and the shutter. The first is the simply that you’ve stopped the moment in question, interrupted whatever is wonderful about that singular now. Everything stops for the camera. You’re frozen, right then, right there, in that exact click. Your flow is gone. What might have come next, following as naturally as your next breath, is forever lost as soon as the camera appears. The re-boot is as jarring as emerging from the breath hold of a frozen dive.

Memories, the good ones at least, are like poems. Returning to those memories over time is like re-reading a beloved verse. The basic facts, like the words in the poem, remain the same; it’s around the edges of the memory that we find the smiles. In poetry it’s the message between the lines. In music it’s the space between the notes. This is where the magic lives. We shrink these spaces in the memories that hurt but won’t fade, and we spend as much time as we can engulfed in the happiness that lives in the space around our best memories. The foundation for growth here in this space is being fully engaged in simply living in each “now” rather than engaging your cellphone camera and Instagram.

You can’t really take a picture of how you feel, and in the end isn’t that what makes the memory?

The Friendship Journey in the Age of Easy (Adopted from Sunday musings)

Beth and I were out to dinner with another couple. Mutual friends came up in conversation. They’d moved away a couple of years ago. Moved a couple of times, actually. “Have you heard from so-and-so?” “No. You?” “Uh uh.” “Huh. That’s funny. We thought maybe it was just us.” “Yah, I call every now and again. Text every so often. Crickets.” In an odd way it felt a bit better, for all four of us, that we weren’t the only ones who’d been left behind as it were. Better, but still a bit sad and still hurt a bit.

Friendship is a bit of a journey. That’s not really news, though the journey evolves not only as one gets older but also in relation to societal evolution. T’was a time when the maintenance of a friendship forged on the battlefields of youth was almost expected to fade away, with only the faintest embers of memories still burning. It was natural. Common to the point of being expected, especially if friends moved far afield.

In order to keep the fires of friendship burning you need to stoke them. We marvel at the long-distance friendships of our forebears, brought to light in the letters they sent to one another. Can you imagine? Friendship maintained at the whim of the postal service? And yet maintain they did, at least those friendships that were meaningful enough to make the effort. The dawn of the telephone age made it somewhat easier to do this, but expense was a barrier often too high to surmount, trumping the immediacy and intimacy of hearing a friend’s voice.

Friendships at the mercy of distance and time were friendships most often destined to become memories.

Ah, but the world is so very different now. We have, each of us, a device that allows us to talk to anyone we have ever known, right now, for pennies. A text can be sent with an effort so trivial that we have laws to regulate when we should know better than to fire one off. As if that’s not quite enough, Facebook and Twitter are there for the asking, and the original “reach out and touch someone” revolution that is email will alert you when someone has messaged you on either of them. It is now easy, the effort necessary to remain in contact is now so minimal, that what it means to stoke the flames of friendship has been turned on its head. Along the way it seems that our expectations of what will become of our friendships has changed as well. If it’s so easy to stay in touch, our friendships should withstand any number of moves, right?

We will have to re-order that, I think.

Beth and I have a number of friends with whom we shared many, many things, who have moved away from the little burg we call home. In truth, most were little more than friendly acquaintances really, people we were thrown together with because of stage of life stuff like schools or sports or jobs. “Moving away” for these friendships is simply another way of saying the calendar has flipped, and these fade just like friendships in the days of the Pony Express. That’s OK, too; they are meant to fade because they weren’t really friends, people in whom you confided, people who confided in you, counted on you.

Our new world of easy access to one another changes how we feel about people we really did consider friends when they move away. It takes only time, well, time and desire, to stay in touch. To stay friends. Ah…there’s the rub, eh? It’s so easy now–no hoping that they will pick up the phone, return the voicemail, reply to the email/text/PM–that our expectations have changed. That resignation inherent in the historical timeline of all but the deepest, most meaningful friendships has been replaced with some kind of new expectation that we don’t have to let go, let the friendship go, simply because someone has gone somewhere else.

And it hurts, doesn’t it, when friends who were friends in person make it clear that moving away is actually just the same today as it was in the days of the letter and the rotary dial telephone. All but the truest of friends move on, and what we have now is not a gentle resignation and wistful sadness about our mutual loss, but rather a more acute and personal type, especially if we’d decided that the friendship had been worth the effort necessary to keep the fire burning.

There’s a story here, of course, but I won’t trouble you with it. You’ve got one too I’ll bet; only the details are different. There’s also a lesson I think, one that is grounded in the wisdom of yesteryear. Our world has changed in ways that were unimaginable to our parents and grandparents. Heck, even my Mom is now on Facebook (yikes!). Friendship, however, has not. It doesn’t matter even a little bit that it takes so little effort to connect in today’s world. What matters now is the same as what mattered when connecting meant eagle feathers and inkwells: having a friendship that was meaningful enough to make the effort. Friends reach out, and they reach back when you reach out, whatever reaching means on any given day in any given era. The arc of a friendship still ends most often as nothing more than warm memories, like the tiny embers of even the most magnificent bonfire in a dawn soon to come.

We are all happier when we accept that most of our friendships will still be like this. Lucky are we if we have even a single friend who feels just the same about our friendship, whether we stoke our fire side by side or cross-country. Friendship was, is, and will always be about the desire to remain friends, not how easy it might be to express that desire. Remember this, and we steel ourselves a bit more against the sadness of a friendship lost to time and distance.

Remember this, and we allow ourselves to be warmed by the memories that remain of the friendship that once was.

On Friendship

Friend: a person who has a strong liking for and trust in a another person. –Miriam-Webster’s

Friendship has been on my mind of late. Truth be told, some version of that sentence accurately describes some part of my day pretty much every day, just a bit more so of late. You can never have enough friends and all. True enough that, but one should reflect a bit on what it is that constitutes friendship, and what it means to be a friend.

Once upon a time in college I embarked on an adventure, a hitchhiking journey to meet up with mates from college, eventually landing on the beach in North Carolina. My Dad was dead set against it. It was time for me to go to work for the summer, and quite honestly the itinerary was more than a little “skinny” on details.

Me: “But Dad, these guys are my friends!”

Dad: “Probably not. In 10 years you may not even know a single phone number for one person who was there. You are lucky if you have a single friend in the world.”

Man, I hated him for that. I left angry and returned triumphant (God watches over fools and Irishmen). Sure enough, only one among that group remains, and he only a warm afterthought. My Dad, of course, was spot on.

Each of us lives in a galaxy of people who swirl around us as if we were a pre-Galilean Earth. Think Brian Regan’s famous “Science Fair” bit: “The big yellow one is [me].” This very center of this solo system is made up of our friends, however few. They are close enough to touch, always in view. Surrounding this inner circle is a slightly larger one filled with friendly acquaintances, people who may once have been friends or may yet become friends, but at present a group of people we are genuinely happy to see but don’t necessarily go out of our way to do so. Next is that mass of people we’ve met, a group not notable for anything; we don’t think of them at all. There are enemies, too, but for now let’s leave them be. All of this floats in a universe of beings we’ve yet to, or will never meet.

What is it that moves one from the orbit of friendly acquaintances into that innermost sphere of friends? The mechanics of it are really quite banal: shared experiences, a kind of proximity (geographic or in our modern world electronic), enough values held in common that you can forgive those that are different. It’s subtle, the difference between a friendly acquaintance and a friend. Heck, you may have some friendly acquaintances who like you, like who you are just as much as your friend. Maybe more. The difference, I think, is not so much in the liking as it is in the trusting and the caring.

Your friend cares about you. Cares what you think. He pauses before he acts or speaks and takes a moment to think about you before he does either. Someone with whom you are friendly might meet you halfway on something, but your friend will go way beyond that toward you because he cares a bit more about what you think than maybe even what he might. While your friendly acquaintance will likely never hurt you your friend will protect you from hurt. Might even take the hit for you and suffer so that you might not.

Because of this you trust your friend in a way that you trust no one other than your closest family. In a sense you’ve pre-forgiven him because you know…you just know…that he not only will he not hurt you, but he will be ever vigilant against doing so even by accident. My Dad was right. You don’t get very many of these. Indeed, most are fortunate to get one at a time.

Your little solo system is ever-changing; people move in and out of orbits, sometimes inward and sadly occasionally out. People grow differently. They change or they move. The work of friendship is hard because it requires looking outward at the same time you allow another to look in. It’s a high wire/high risk enterprise, being someone’s friend. In many ways it’s as if your very soul is in the harness, and your friend is on belay. And in your hand you hold the rope that allow’s YOUR friend’s soul to soar.

Right beside yours.

And in the end came a friend; nothing but a friend. Nothing, but everything.

 

Three Friends

Every couple or three years comes a slew of articles on friendship, specifically friendships in adults. Thus it is that I find myself returning to the topic for the first time in awhile, having been bombarded of late with articles, books, and movies on the subject (“Of Mice and Men” is being staged on Broadway, for example). That, and my brother’s rather humorous story of having bumped into a fellow Eph with whom I was friendly in college (more on that in a bit). Much has been written on the subject, almost all of it a re-hash except one little gem, a tiny bit of research that suggests that friendship in mid-life is the strongest predictor of longevity of all.

Weird, huh? And not too positive a finding either, what with my oft-told and hard-earned experiences with how difficult it is for men to create new friendships after the age of 30. The magic number is 3. Three close friends predicts a longer life, especially for men. Sadly this usually does NOT include your wife; the overwhelming percentage of wives drifted AWAY from the men in favor of younger women, usually daughters, as they moved through adulthood. As an aside I’m now desperately hoping that Beth will have some room left over from “Lovely Daughter” Megan. (Actually, getting Beth hooked on CrossFit might be my ace in the hole)

Interesting, huh? Three close friends and you live longer. Very few folks had more than 4 or 5, an incredibly tight range when you think about it.

It’s become a kind of psychological dogma that men and women make friends in very different ways. Women, it is said, make friends through the sharing of feelings. In person two women who are friends are said to be most often facing one another, talking. Maintaining this kind of friendship is structurally rather easy in our modern age of communication. Feelings can be shared in any number of ways that do not require the friends to actually be in the same room together. Phone, text, Facebook and Twitter are but a few of the tactical and mechanical advantages to a friendship built on an exchange of feelings, and the currency required for the ongoing investment is simply time.

Men on the other hand make friendship a much more arduous affair. Many women would opine that this could actually describe many, if not most things that men do, but that’s a topic for a different Sunday. The picture most often used to illustrate men in the company of friends has them standing shoulder to shoulder, in the act of sharing an experience but not necessarily sharing any internal reaction to that experience. It makes me chuckle to think that a video of the same scene would probably also look like a portrait, nothing moving, certainly not their lips. For men the basis of friendship is the experience and the fact that both were physically present for it. Whether sitting at a Bulls game in Row J seats 11 and 12 , or working up a sweat at the Loyola Prep gym playing pick-up hoops, the friendship blooms only from the seed of the experience which is fertilized by proximity. At some point the memories of those experiences, stories re-told dozens, hundreds of times, fail to prompt growth in the friendship without the Miracle-Gro of presence. Eventually even shared “experiences by proxy”, raising similar aged children for example, fails to prevent slack from growing in those friendship ties if you aren’t physically there to tighten them.

In my mind the universe is divided into a very few groups of varying sizes. Think of your life as kind of like a bulls-eye floating through a vast space. The center of that bulls-eye comprises that small group of true friends, men and women who would drop everything should you have need, and for whom you would do the same. Friends are people you miss if you haven’t had contact for a matter of days, people whose company you actively seek. These are people you go out of your way to see and never try to avoid. Man or woman, they know how you feel. Again, an aside, happy is the couple who have overlap in this innermost circle of the bulls-eye.

The next circle is filled with friendly acquaintances, people who make you smile. When you have an opportunity to be with them in person or in spirit it makes you happy. There’s no limit on these, and a reasonably friendly character could have dozens of friendly acquaintances scattered throughout a life. This is the group from which most friends are created, and if you are fortunate someone who is no longer really in that bulls-eye drifts no further out from center than this inner ring. Just outside the circle of friendly acquaintances is the ring containing acquaintances, people you’ve met and remember but either don’t ever really spend time with or never have the chance to explore a move toward the center. My brother met a someone who has always been here, the humor in wistful remembrance notwithstanding. Your circles of friends and acquaintances drifts through a vast space filled with folks yet unmet, a (hopefully) few enemies orbiting in there somewhere as well.

We float through the universe in our circles, people drifting in toward the center (perhaps my Brother’s encounter will drive my acquaintance inward) and sadly on occasion out and away. In CrossFit we know both a definition of fitness and a way to measure it. Indeed, Coach Glassman has opined that not only is fitness the most important part of health, but in his opinion it is a precise measurement of the same. He and I disagree around the margins of that position, at least in part because of friendship and what it does for us. We may not be able to define friendship in quite as absolute terms as those we use for fitness, but I’m reasonably sure we all know what it means to be and to have a real friend. Read or watch “Of Mice and Men” if you are unsure. It’s likely that friendship itself, unlike fitness, does not have a precise metric, a measurement of volume or degree. No “friendship across broad time and modal domains” if you will. Though I continue to hold this truth, that you can never have enough friends, there is apparently a number that does have some significance. Three. Three friends, real friends, lead to a longer life. Side by side or face to face, the tipping point is 3.

No amount of time spent or distance traveled is too much for them.

 

 

 

 

Old Crow (Courtesy of John Brown)

You know those liquor ads, all sensitive and such, where they show you a picture of a bunch of young folks warm and close. “You save your good stuff (presumably THEIR stuff) for your best friends.” My friend John Brown thinks otherwise. Maybe you save your best stuff for your Mom or your Dad as sign of respect or as a thankful gesture, but your REAL friends are the one’s with whom you can drink the really bad stuff. The rot gut. The “Old Crow”.

If you think about it for just the littlest bit John is absolutely right. With your best friends, your real friends, it’s not at all about the what or the where but only about the who. You are sitting, standing, sweating…whatever…with your friend. “Old Crow” is just fine.

Try this. Someone, probably my Dad, told me long, long ago that your closest friends were the people you could hang out with in silence. If there’s nothing to say, you say…nothing. No awkward silences, just silence. That’s one way I knew my wife Beth was “the one” by the way.

(Lifts glass of Old Crow)

Cheers.