Friendship has ebbs and flows, and trying to weather challenges sometimes changes your address book. I first found that phrase in a book by Stephanie Ericsson entitled Companion Through the Darkness: Inner Dialogues on Grief. Ericsson had lost her husband suddenly while she was pregnant with their first child. She tried to maneuver through the darkness and found that she had to update her address book along the way. People she thought she could depend on were oddly not able to be there for her. She also inherited new friends that blessed her in surprising ways.
I have been thinking about this concept for a few weeks now regarding my own life. I still struggle to explain why long-time friends who are dear to me are slipping into second place and others who were not in my inner circle have been welcomed at the table. This reality is a bit sad to me–the slipping of friends, not the adding of new ones. I wish I could say something to help people transition with me and yet sometimes it is not my work. I have tried to give hints or even been exceedingly blunt with some people and it has not been successful. I have also tried to figure out what my blocks are so that I can examine what I still need to do in order to become my most authentic self on this adventure. All I know is that I spend quite a bit of time thinking about it.
The other night I phoned someone I had not spoken to since he learned the news of my cancer. I have sent him updates but he has not responded. We had a fun friendship and I missed him. As we spoke, I sensed his heartache and yet his joy that I had reached out. I do not know that I will call again but I knew I needed some closure to the friendship. He is a busy man but I suspected it was more than that. I know other friends are busy and I worry that they will feel badly they did not make the time to see me. Some days when I reflect on my father’s sudden death, I regret that I did not spend more alone time with him these past two years. I cherish the quiet talks we had in his darkened hospital room. They were like old times. This may seem odd to say but during his own hospital stays, it allowed us to hang out, just the two of us, and I loved that time. I valued even the silence of watching him sleep before his eyes would pop open when he sensed my presence. Few of us learn the treasure of hard time spent together but I am grateful for it and the depths of relationship it causes.
Perhaps that is the challenge for all of us–we need to move out of our comfort zones to places that cause anxiety, honesty, self-reflection, and vulnerability. I know that the inner circle folks can do that with me. They are learning or have learned to simply be present in ways that are precious. The road map is being built at each encounter and the signs are not always clear as to how to proceed. Sometimes, even I think we need a DANGER sign as we seem to be approaching a precipice and yet we fearlessly move forward, trusting in the process.
A friend of mine recently tried to explain his take on the situation. I have been holding that concept since because it rang true for me. He said that many of us are fake and that my situation forces people to be real. He said it much kinder than that but in essence that is what I took away from our conversation. As I strip away each mask from my own face, I find my desire is to be with people who are trying to find their own authenticity. From these people I will find further healing of myself.
Also of importance is a sense of mutuality. I do not want one-way relationships right now. I need to feel equal while I still can. I already have a Saviour to whom I have given my all. A mutual sense of giving and receiving is life-giving. The time will come when I will have to relinquish that reciprocity factor but for now I find comfort in people who allow me dignity and yet can still spoil me. The line is fine, I suppose. I do not want everything to be about me and my illness. I want to know how life is going for the people I care about and I also want you to check in on me, with care and concern.
The other piece of shifting circles has to do with people’s outlook on life. I am not always gracious and I can whine about obscure things still. My hope is that I will be less cranky and more grateful if it is possible. My expectations might be a little high here but I do remember that change with a friend of mine as she progressed towards Heaven. I want that for me. I find I am not as patient as I could be with people who tend to complain more than give thanks as their default personality. As I sort through boxes and my past opportunities, I think of those people in countries who have a fraction of what we have here. Many of them have learned the secret of being joyful whatever their circumstances. That has been an ongoing gift and reminder to me.
I am grateful too that I have lived my life so that at this juncture I do not need to feel much regret. I want people to know that they should live their lives and not hold back–for a better job, the right time, the perfect partner, more security. I was saying to my social worker the other day that I have lived as fully as possible–and beyond my means because I have trusted God and have generous friends who have lived vicariously through me. The people who are in my inner circle are the people who, in various ways, have the courage to risk and leap into life without a safety net. I am so proud of them. They inspire me to keep moving forward and dreaming. I need that amazing energy around me.
Sadly, energy does count at this stage of the game. I am distancing myself from negative and fearful people. I can reach out as I did with that phone call but I will not drag someone where that person is unwilling to go. I do not have that type of energy to spare. Some folks are simply better than others at being real. Real for me means that you can be angry and heartbroken about my health situation. That is a topic we can broach. That will probably put you more in the inner circle. Real for me is drawing boundaries–another conversation I had with my social worker this week. The fatigue I experience lately can be overwhelming. Given who I am and how other people’s energy can suck the life out of me, I am working hard at limiting time with the emotional vampires. I am not particularly proud to admit this coping mechanism but on the other hand I have worked hard to get to this place of securing necessary boundaries and self-compassion. Putting myself first does not come naturally for me.
The ebb and flow of friendship is not something to be feared. Each of us probably have someone that we do not talk to for a long period and then when we sit down the hours flow like a beautiful cascade of live-giving water. I value those friendships as much as the ones that are more frequent. I called a friend the other day out east and the joyful surprise in her response to my voice was delightful. When my cousin calls me as she walks through the wooded area where we walk together, I am there with her. When another cousin sends an email asking how I am doing, I am grateful for his check in. When a friend suggests a fun outing that will allow us to build memories, I smile. When another friend tries again to make plans but finds me too tired, she understands and I am relieved she does not take it personally that I am postponing. When someone says I needed time to sort through my sorrow, I appreciate the honesty. When the ebb has taken its toll, be open to the flow. Trust that the address book is in pencil and changes are never permanent.
Is there a friend who you need to reach out to for whatever reason?
What places people in your inner circle?
Controller of the Tides, you know the ebb and flow of relationships better than any of us. You were surrounded when all seemed remarkable and deserted by some at your time of need. A handful of women in particular sensed what you needed. Thank you for those who will risk and make themselves vulnerable, who weather the strong pulls in either direction. May I learn the secrets of this courage and strength to be able to use in my own life. Amen.