Unfolding the Map
We head into the Finger Lakes region - a beautiful region that I was lucky to visit in years past. William Least Heat-Moon (LHM) makes a longer stop here to recharge with an old friend. He feels like he needs it in order to continue onto the remainder of his trip. I envy his ability to reconnect with his friend, as you'll read below. Greg Brown provides a musical interlude. To reconnect with where we are on the journey, get back in touch with the map.
"Chisholm rolled a fat round stone out of the trees. I grabbed and pulled. I was capable of lifting it, but it was so close to the limits of my strength, I didn't want to try. Working with someone I knew less well, I would have picked it up, but with this old friend I could concede my limit and let the boulder take my measure. Nothing showed our friendship better than that rock I walked away from."
Blue Highways: Part 8, Chapter 2
"We passed a foundation of a barn that had collapsed, a toppled chimney, and a weedy depression where an icehouse had stood. 'These are all dreams we're walking over,' I said.
"Chisholm looked at me strangely and went quiet for some time. When he spoke again it was about the dogs. Afterward, I thought I understood his silence: I had undercut the stone wall we had built, our accomplishment. The wall looked enduring, and it would serve for a while, but there would come a time when it would be a pile of rock to no end. I had undercut the biggest dream of all - the one for permanence...."
Blue Highways: Part 8, Chapter 4
Cheshire, New York
Recently I have been examining my friendships. I am a naturally introverted person, so making friendships in the usual places people make friends outside of institutional settings, such as school, churches, or other settings where one is forced to get to know people, is very difficult for me. I can't just walk into a bar, approach someone and strike up a conversation. That's not in my nature. Nor do I like to draw attention to myself though I do like good attention when I get it.
Making friends, therefore, has been for me a painstaking process built over years, and I often wish that once the friendships are cemented they can remain static. I sometimes wish time and distance didn't matter in friendships, and I used to think they wouldn't. A friend for life is a friend for life, I believed.
But time and distance do matter, as does the effort and energy each friend puts into the friendship. I was naive to think that all my friendships would remain the same. Of course they've changed over the years. I've made new friends, I've lost track of some friends. I haven't put the energy into some friendships when I should, and they have drifted away. I have put energy into other friendships where my level of commitment wasn't returned, and the friendships gradually became more superficial, shallow and in the case of some, eventually faded.
This is on my mind now because I am negotiating my way through what feels like immense personal change - change that will make me a better person. My world feels like it is transforming around me and even people who I considered longtime and very close friends seem to be drifting away and new ones are starting to come in. I have been very nervous about change throughout my life, and very hesitant to let it happen, so my instinct is to try to fight and hang on to what I had with dear life. And I'm combating this instinct very hard.
For example, I have two friends, one on each coast. One is a friend from my undergraduate institution. I have always felt very attuned to this friend. To me, it was as if we had a window into each other. We are both introverted, thoughtful, curious about the world, willing to examine tough questions, and open to exploration. Yet I found that to maintain the friendship, I had to make most of the effort. Many phone calls I made would go unanswered. His response to my annoyance was that he felt that at whatever time and whenever place we connected, we just always picked up comfortably. To him it didn't matter when or where. However for me, I wanted that connection and I wanted it more often, and I wanted him to show some commitment to our friendship. I have given up complaining, given up making efforts, and I am letting that friendship drift. It is sad to me. I like him a lot, and have always felt more than friend with him, almost as if we were two spiritual mates seeking answers to similar questions. But I can't wait any longer for him to share my commitment, and will let him seek me out if he wishes. I just cannot put extra effort into the friendship any more because I just get too disappointed.
Another friend is very similar. We are of different temperament. He's a bit more extraverted than me. We were thrown together in a community setting, and we became close. We are both very competitive in our own ways, and occasionally clashed on that score. I was best man at his wedding, and am godfather to his daughter. I saw him often when I went to the East Coast for business. However, since I've gotten farther from the East Coast, and my visits there far less frequent, I've seen him less. I made efforts over the distance to maintain the friendship, and he has too though his family commitments made it more difficult for him. In the past year, since I stopped being as proactive as I used to be in communicating, we have had only one exchange by e-mail. Some actions, bad choices, in my personal life a couple of years ago, perhaps disappointed him in me but I don't know. Part of my personal growth has been to try to rectify those personal issues that led me down paths that were destructive but I haven't been able to share that with him. That friendship, one that was very important to me, seems adrift now and I don't know what to do about it except let it go where it will.
I'm not trying to make myself out as a good friend all the time. I have two people that I was getting to know and that I like very much that moved away and I haven't been proactive in contacting them. I have not kept up with some other people that are important to me. Perhaps the disappointment I feel in my other friends are something that these other people feel with me.
I've also made some new friends who have become close. I've learned that friendships are not static as much as I would like them to be. They change, they grow, they fall apart.
But I'm struck by LHM's quotes, above, where he just enjoys a friend's company and the easy way they have with each other. He makes it very clear that they have no need to impress each other, but are just fine being themselves in each other's company. To me, those kinds of friendships have been inestimable gifts, and is at the root of why I'm sad they are changing. LHM underscores change by using the metaphor of a wall to show the different perspectives that can be taken by each party in a friendship. LHM marks the impermanence of what humans construct, include friendships that once seemed as solid as bedrock. He acknowledges change, based on the changes in his own life. His friend is troubled by that notion, rooted in the solidity of his lifestyle as it is now. In the midst of my change, I am more willing to notice and acknowledge change around me. I am at once filled with hope and terror at the same time. I don't want to lose the friendships I have built over time, but my own growth might make it inevitable. I love my friends, but I can't imprison them, nor myself, in my past if I am to move forward. Maybe the love I have for them is the only thing that I can hold permanently, even as they slowly disappear into the distance.
One of my favorite songs, a bit melancholy, is Greg Brown's The Poet Game. It is an acknowledgment of our own choices, life's changes and a reminiscence of people who made a mark on our lives and for whatever reason have moved on. One lyric which right now is especially poignant to me is the following:
I had a friend who drank too much
and played too much guitar -
and we sure got along.
Reel-to-reels rolled across
the country near and far
with letters poems and songs..
but these days he don't talk to me
and he won't tell me why.
I miss him every time i say his name.
I don't know what he's doing
or why our friendship died
while we played the poet game.
Sirens wail above the fields -
another soul gone down -
another Sun about to rise.
I've lost track of my mistakes,
like birds they fly around
and darken half of my skies.
To all of those I've hurt -
I pray you'll forgive me.
I to you will freely do the same.
So many things I didn't see,
with my eyes turned inside,
playing the poet game.
If you want to know more about Cheshire
This is about the only thing I could find remotely connected to Cheshire:
Next up: Hill Cumorah, New York