On Drifting Love Boats and Sinking Friend Ships
“I hate losing an old friend” is a line from a recent post of mine.
But the truth is, people come and people go, and so do I.
In reality however, my gut doesn’t comprehend this kind of change. It doesn’t get how you can like someone one day and not the next. Or how — like with my first wife — you can be married or live with someone for nine years and one day wake up to realize she’s not for you. Oh my head can understand quite well, but my heart cannot. It looked up at me sadly at the time, saying, “You mean, we’re moving out?! You don’t want me to love her anymore? I don’t know how to do that.”
Similarly, something inside me doesn’t understand the fact that during the seasons of a long life, one will see their constellation of friendships move across their sky and, often, out of view, while being replaced (usually) by others. The people I knew as a child – they still hold a place dear in my heart because my childhood does. We’re still there inside an eternal playground in my mind’s backyard.
Those kids on the block I grew up with, who rode with me on the carousel a while, were my entire social world for years that seemed to last forever. (And that’s because younger years really do go by slower in our perception. Consider that when you’re 6, a year comprises 1/6th, or 16.6% of your entire life. When you’re 60, it’s 1.66%). Of all of them on the block, I only still know Jeff, whom I haven’t seen in decades.
Sometimes it’s felt like watching a passing parade. High school? Jeff, and also Nancy and Russell. Russ at least I saw a few weeks ago. Nancy…I also haven’t seen in decades.
And college? Only Nancy in Texas.
Ex lovers? I haven’t seen my first wife since we caught each other on opposite subway platforms – her headed one way, me the other – back in, was it ’94? And all my other ex’s? I stay in touch here in town with Laurie and Sherry, both of whom have met Shelley. My high school sweetheart Nancy lives in Massachusetts; Lorrie’s out in Colorado; Pamie’s in Pa.; Debby’s long dead; Anita’s in England and was less than happy to hear from me when I called her back in ’98; and that’s about it. Out of over a hundred.
Love boats and friend ships drift away to sea. Sometimes, watching from the deck, my chest gets heavy with sighs that feel like so many waves goodbye.
Sometimes people leave me; sometimes I am the one to let a person go, allowing a friendship to wilt like a forgotten flower. Or, on occasion, I’ve felt the need to pull it up like a weed, which is always sad but sometimes necessary.
That’s why I so value my men’s community, which stresses relationships between men, even if some aren’t necessarily friends. And my other community of revelers, although many of those people, like Mr. Natural, are “just passin’ thru”.
It’s perhaps especially scary or jarring for me to have my group of friends change, because for me, they’re my family. Those still alive in my actual family, who I am still close with, I can count on the fingers of …four fingers. And of them, only one lives here, and he’s almost completely demented and always has been.
So the few friends who stick over the years, from where I stand now, they feel like gold. We have such high-context relationships we can talk in code to each other. Eliot (who later changed his name to Eliezer) and I have this running joke about how one day I’ll tell him about the Rainbow Gathering I went to, the one that I never got around to filling him in on after I came back…in 1978. Russell and I have a shorthand I value like my right hand.
The truth is, I’ve loved all those who’ve entered and exited my stage. I’ve loved them all because I’ve loved the whole play.
One member of the men’s community I refer to spoke recently of the difference between love and attachment. And of how attachment to someone, or to having them be a certain way, or to having them be in your life at all, can get in the way of the love that really is the heart of the matter.
And as Johnnie put it, “In my life, I’ve loved them all.”
Speaking of which, someone gave me this jewel just recently:
“When I’m grateful, I have no worries.”
And when I am in a state of gratitude for all those who’ve entered my life as friend or lover, I become reconciled to them — or me — moving on.