Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Ebb & Flow, Rise & Fall (of Friendships)

This is (late) Essay #31 of The 52 Essay Challenge, a series in which I write a new (unpolished, totally messy!) essay each week during 2017.

[Note: I began writing this essay mid-week last week, before Charlottesville. Trying to finish it after the white supremacist violence was really REALLY hard.]

I was out for a drink the other night with my friend Nina. We are both going through some spiritual –and emotional & psychological—changes. Good changes. Not easy, but definitely good in the long run. We are present in the world with more love and compassion. I can’t speak for her, but personally, I’ve been working on seeing the Divine in all people. Which, I’ll have you know, is hard as hell. But I’m trying!

As we talked over a beer, she mentioned that she has noticed her circle of friends shrink. That now, she only has a few people (four or five maybe) that she can turn to when the going gets rough. And even in that small group, only one or two (myself included) actually “get it”, get what’s happening to us, or, at the very least, offer a listening ear rather than prescriptive advice (which is really judgment, projection, and opinion in disguise).

Change is hard. For everyone.

But also, it’s the only constant thing in our lives. The only thing we can depend on.

Nobody likes change. It’s unfamiliar which then creates fear which leads to discomfort and who wants to feel that? So then we fight with all our might to resist change, to keep things the way they are, the way they have always been. Which is not possible. Not really.

I’ve been reading Pema Chodron’s Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change, in which the whole idea is to embrace uncertainty, to be at peace with groundlessness. It’s about being in the present moment, about practicing non-attachment, about being kind to others – basically, some of the main practices of Buddhism. But the focus on change is what I love about this book. The idea of embracing –heck, welcoming!— uncertainty is fascinating and is changing (haha) my attitude towards a lot of things in my life. For the better.

As Nina and I change, we have seen friends move out of our lives. Sometimes, it’s a blantant break up. Most times though, it’s a fading out: allowing time to pass with reduced communication. Or no communication at all. Sometimes it’s a conscious decision on the part of one party or the other or both. Sometimes it’s subconscious where schedules are so busy that if we don’t make the effort to see each other or see each other regularly due to structured schedules (think: social/religious groups, kids sport practices, etc), we just lose touch.

Change happens whether we pay attention or not.


I have a friend I’ve known for over twenty years. We’ve been friends THAT long. (Am I really that old??) So, for the past, oh, I don’t know, eight or nine years, we’ve made it a point to have dinner, just the two of us, at least once every other month. She lives in the city so I make the journey there because, really, it’s more fun than dinner in Jersey. Haha! We usual try a new restaurant each time – there’s just so many to choose from, so why not? And each time we meet up, we talk about our current lives –career, kids, spouses, aging parents—and sometimes reminisce about our younger coming-of-age days. It’s quite a thing to have a friend who has been with you for most of the big stages of your life. And over the years, I’d like to think that we each have changed and evolved over the years. During those changes, we’ve adapted to each other –in some sense, we changed together despite our different paths.

And then the election of 2016 happened.

You want to talk about change? Jeez.

I didn’t think I had to worry about her & our friendship. After all, we’ve been through a lot together. And while we didn’t often get into discussions about politics, we agreed on many things and both expressed frustration with our Republican fathers. But as time went on since November 9th, I came to a deeper understanding of who my friend is, beyond the college girl I grew up with. And with that understanding came a little heartbreak.

You can probably guess where this is going.

So I’ll summarize: woman of color and white woman are friends for a long time. The nation’s racism is brought out from behind the Wizard’s curtain into the bright sunlight. White woman and woman of color march in January’s Women’s March, but with separate groups. WOC thinks nothing of it as it was a very big march and to coordinate was nothing short of a nightmare. Later, WOC asks WW about her experience of the march for a piece that she is writing and asks what she is doing to continue her political action/involvement. WW responds with the fact that she is very busy with a deadline of her own. Also, it turns out WW has a standing policy in which she does not talk about politics (huh?). WOC is confused as WW chose political action by participating in the march. It becomes clear to WOC, by the newly-stated standing policy, that WW is unaware of her white privilege. To be able to opt out of political conversations because they make her uncomfortable serves as Exhibit A of white privilege. WOC is not sure if she can hold a conversation with *anybody* that bars politics. It is not an abstract thing – it is directly connected to her livelihood.

Some time goes by. WOC posts to FB an article about WW and their obliviousness to their privilege. WW friend posts a brief comment that indicates she might possibly be offended by the post but does not say this outright. WOC wonders if WW friend read the article or only the headline. Since then, there has been no communication between the friends. That was about two and a half months ago.

I do not know what to make of this.

Silence is a tricky bastard. Some days, you want it so you can be alone with your inner Self, to spend time with your Self.  Sometimes, you want it so you can think and write. Other times, it can grow into an ugly monster, filling your head with invented apocalyptic narratives.

I have not reached the ugly monster stage. There has been too much going on in the world and in my own life. There has been little time for silence.

But there are a few questions floating around: what is she thinking? Why hasn’t she reached out to me? Why haven’t I reached out to her? Is this the direction of our long friendship? A fade-out? What is the consequence of that?

I don’t know the answers to these questions. They are merely there. Floating. So I’m asking: how much time will pass before I’ll want to know the answers? Or, am I okay not knowing the answers?

Change is hard. How we handle it makes all the difference. Do we resist it? Or do we run towards it with open arms?

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