I woke from a dream this morning feeling the hostility of people whom I thought were my friends. It made me wonder about myself and about friendship. My late husband, Jim, was a very popular person. About 300 people came to his memorial service. Collecting friends was as easy as collecting dust for him. Everyone liked him. He was easy-going, out-going, always going. He had friends from the P.B.A. (bowling buddies), friends from church, friends from music groups he was in, friends to golf with, friends he worked with, friends from Junior High School he still played cards with on occasion, friends he met through me, even, who probably liked him better. He was gifted in the social dance and spun like a well-balanced top. I admire that, and I’m not like that. Does that mean there’s something wrong with me?
Before I got too heavily into my little pity party, Steve woke up and asked me what I was thinking. Then he asked, “So, what is a friend?”
I have never really had more than one good friend at a time. Neither has Steve. We’re both introverted, which is one way to label us. What does that mean? We go inward, downward. We get introspective and deep. We challenge ourselves, and we challenge others. Often, this makes other people uncomfortable. Steve has no problem being uncomfortable; he’s just that confident and always has been. When I feel uncomfortable or that I’ve made someone else uncomfortable, I get very judgmental of myself. I hide from the discomfort. That can make me seem aloof, I suppose. When I am with my one friend whom I trust, I can risk being uncomfortable and be honest. This is what I want most in a friendship. I have a lot of questions that I want to ask, but I’m afraid to ask most of them. It takes me a long time to feel that I’m in a safe enough space to be my questioning, challenging, unsure self. Providing that space is a wonderful gift. Really interacting with me in that space is a rare and holy experience, and one that I think I have sought out throughout my life. I have been in prayer groups, Bible study groups, leadership groups, workshop groups, meditation groups, and interactive groups of all kinds ever since my teenaged years looking for that. I thought I was just looking for acceptance, but now I think I was looking for much more. I don’t crave being social. I crave the mystery and vulnerability of authenticity. I want to feel free to go into dangerous inner territory, and I’d like a companion to help me feel safe.
Years ago, my spiritual director asked me if I thought Jim was my “soul mate”. I replied, “Sometimes.” We’d get to places of depth, and then he’d pull up. I accepted that. Then I’d go to another prayer group or walk alone in the prairie or write some poetry. It worked. We were very good companions, but different. There is no “right” way to be a friend. We aren’t guaranteed a soul-mate. Although, if you look at Yahoo news items, they will give you a list of how many friends you’re “supposed” to have and what kind and then give you 6 tips on how to make more friends. I imagine that is fear-based, and that’s what I want to avoid. “I’m afraid that no one likes me” “I’m afraid there’s something wrong with me” “I’m afraid I’ll die alone and unloved”. I am who I am. I will be who I will be. We all die on our own. I will go down to the depths with myself, if no one else, and that will be fine. God is within me, at the depths, around me, everywhere. That space that allows me to be how I am is God. There is nothing to be afraid of.
After breakfast, Steve played his favorite song. It always makes him (and now me) cry. The last verse goes like this:
His head was bent in sorrow/ green scales fell like rain/ Puff no longer went to play along the cherry lane.
Without his life-long friend, Puff could not be brave/ So Puff that magic dragon sadly slipped into his cave.
Life changes. Sometimes we slip into a cave and become our own best friend. We can still explore the depths there and thrill to that dangerous territory.