The Mirrors to Our Lives

This week I have been reflecting on the concept of friendships: old and new.  This was triggered by phone conversations I had with friends from over a decade ago, having visited with a high school friend, and meeting up with newish friends. These friends have been witnesses to my life from my teens, twenties, and beyond.

I have made an intentional effort to take a pause and reach out to old friends.  If you have moved around as much as I have, it takes energy to maintain friendships that span decades.  We accumulate friends, but to nourish, maintain, and care about them is work. We must devote our energy, space, time, presence, and love to caring for or creating new friendships.

My high school friend Meg, who visited London this week, asked me if I had a journal in my rucksack to see if my hand writing matched the style it was when I was 15.  I pulled it out, she peeked at it.  “It is.  You always wrote so small to take advantage of the paper.”  I didn’t remember this, but she did.  I felt I just shifted to writing tiny because my journal is so beautiful I don’t want my time in it to end.  How can my friends remember qualities about me more than I can?

During a phone conversation, a friend from my Los Angeles days made the statement, “when we grew up together, I remember your type of guy was…”  I pondered, for some reason I only believed “growing up” constituted the period of your life up to age 18.  But we are always growing, and at this point I have known her for 17 years.  Friends are there to serve as additional memory banks, mirrors to who we are and were. They are witnesses to our lives.

Another friend offered to visit me if I wasn’t busy in November.  New friends and I connected over drinks and another set of friends we bonded over a hearty cooked meal.  My life was full this week, but I am trying to allow the space for friendships to be kneaded, molded, and sculpted.

As I connect with friends from the distant and recent past, or people who have recently popped in my life, I can’t help but appreciate their diversity.  This does not speak to just to their ethnic or geographic diversity, but also age, socioeconomic status, political party, and their careers.  My friends are helpers of the mind to include psychologists, social workers, and coaches, or of the body physicians, nurses, physical trainers and yoga instructors.  They are witty and intelligent, as writers, pilots, and educators.  They are creative as musicians, tech developers, chefs, photographers, actors, dancers, jewelry designers, public relation consultants, bloggers, or artists.  One is even starting up a pop band as I write this.  The list seems endless.  And I am so collectively proud of them.   I feel grateful to have or have had them in my life in whatever their capacity.  We support each others’ growth, dreams, failures, and shifts in the world.  The beauty of old friendships is you can continue to turn them through the years, and they can remind you of your baseline.  They remember the essence of your soul if you feel off track.  And we hopefully are there to return the favor.

There is a beautiful poem I heard by David Whyte earlier this week, and I am adding it in it’s entirety below. Read it to yourself as a reminder how you can continue to serve as a friend and what constitutes friendships.  He reminds us that friendships encircle family members, partners, unrequited loves, colleagues, and those we grow with. Being in a true friendship takes intentionality, time, and grit.  Share this poem for a friend you cherish.  Continue to serve as witnesses in each other’s lives.

FRIENDSHIP is a mirror to presence and a testament to forgiveness. Friendship not only helps us see ourselves through another’s eyes, but can be sustained over the years only with someone who has repeatedly forgiven us for our trespasses as we must find it in ourselves to forgive them in turn. A friend knows our difficulties and shadows and remains in sight, a companion to our vulnerabilities more than our triumphs, when we are under the strange illusion we do not need them. An undercurrent of real friendship is a blessing exactly because its elemental form is rediscovered again and again through understanding and mercy. All friendships of any length are based on a continued, mutual forgiveness. Without tolerance and mercy all friendships die…

Friendship is the great hidden transmuter of all relationship: it can transform a troubled marriage, make honorable a professional rivalry, make sense of heartbreak and unrequited love and become the newly discovered ground for a mature parent-child relationship.

The dynamic of friendship is almost always underestimated as a constant force in human life: a diminishing circle of friends is the first terrible diagnostic of a life in deep trouble: of overwork, of too much emphasis on a professional identity of forgetting who will be there when our armored personalities run into the inevitable natural disasters and vulnerabilities found in even the most average existence…

Friendship transcends disappearance: an enduring friendship goes on after death, the exchange only transmuted by absence, the relationship advancing and maturing in a silent internal conversational way even after one half of the bond has passed on.

But no matter the medicinal virtues of being a true friend or sustaining a long close relationship with another, the ultimate touchstone of friendship is not improvement, neither of the self nor of the other, the ultimate touchstone is witness, the privilege of having been seen by someone and the equal privilege of being granted the sight of the essence of another, to have walked with them and to have believed in them, and sometimes just to have accompanied them for however brief a span, on a journey impossible to accomplish alone.

To listen to David Whyte read several poems at a recent On Being Gathering, check out the podcast link below:

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