Love is blind; friendship closes its eyes

You know, if you’d only read the last two or three posts on this blog, you might think that my life is in the crapper right now… and while I will not deny this summer wasn’t all ice cream cones and rainbows, it has definitely had some very good times. And I have to attribute most of those good times to friendships – old, new, and in-between – which kindled warm memories and good times, along with the promise of what might grow.

One of the ways in which I hope I maintain at least the edges of friendship with people so far away is facebook.  Although I have many challenges with facebook, I have to say I appreciate the chance it gives me for those quick peeks into the lives of my friends. It’s kind of like a gopher farm office but on-line (and possibly in your pyjamas).  At work, you pop your head out of your cubicle to yell at someone across the room – “nice job with the Farnsworth contract, Joe!” and go back to work.  On facebook, you hit the “like” button when someone gets engaged and comment “How beautiful the ring is!” below the photo of same ring.

I have friends in life and/or on facebook in 9 different countries and more than 25 different cities (lost count somewhere between Stratford and Stradbroke) and having technology that helps me keep them in my life is important… even though I also value, prefer, treasure the friendships that are in my face, on my couch, drinking wine and scotch with me.

At some point in August, I posted a facebook status update which said I loved technology (at that moment, not always) because it helped bring old friends in one’s life.  That idea was re-affirmed by someone with whom I had working-into-being-real friendship while in Stirling. Some great things have happened to him since we saw each other last, and I had been debating whether or not to tell him I was very pleased to hear about this great move forward. Needless to say, it was wonderful to hear from him before I finished that internal debate and, taking Yoda’s advice, will do more to ensure that we stay on that footing.

Yoda, for those of you who may not remember, is the weird little muppet-y character from “Star Wars” who famously said “Do or do not. There is no such thing as try.”

A very unexpected email popped into my in-box about the same time from someone else with whom I had that same sort of relationship, same place.  Her story right now isn’t quite as happy as my other friend, but the fact that she has reached out to me means the world, and I look forward to technology being part of helping this friendship along.

Technology – in this case, a professional networking site – has brought an old classmate back into my life.  As he’s half a world away, not to mention incredibly busy, I’m not sure how easy it’s going to be to keep the wheels spinning on this re-establishing friendship, but I hope we will succeed.  Randolph is one of those people I would have called a “good acquaintance” back in our university days… if I had used that phrase then.  He was one of those people I knew because of mutual friends, along with some classes we took, one of those people I really liked but never did anything truly pro-active to deepen the friendship.  His life path has been extraordinary, and I really regret that I wasn’t more aware of him, his life and his work for these many years.  And I’m looking forward to connecting more.

Maybe there was something in the air this summer, because re-connecting with old school friends happened in person as well.  My friends Ute (who I saw 2 years ago for the first time in mumbly-mumbled years) and Brenda (whom I hadn’t seen in two more mumbly years than that) came to Buffalo for the weekend, to eat and drink and talk.  Boy, did we talk. If you knew us back when, I bet your ears were burning!!  We talked about work and family, about travel and friendships, about what we remembered about school and who we remembered and who we would never forget.  It was a great time, too short a time, but one which I think will happen again.  I know for sure that we will keep talking through technology – email, Skype, facebook – and possibly even snail mail!

Nearer the end of the summer, my best friend and her daughter came to visit for a weekend. Again, lots of food, lots of drink, lots of talking.  Lynn and I have known each other for about as long as I’ve known Ute and Brenda, but we met in a swimming pool, teaching kids how to swim.  She took the “good” students, the ones who wanted to be there or who understood why they were there.  I was the instructor with the screaming child who didn’t. Out of such trials, great friendships are born.

We have been there for each other in good times and in bad, we laugh at the same stupid things, she constantly challenges me with her incredible intelligence and drive, and most of the time when she’s around, I feed her well.  This visit, however, because it had just been my birthday and was actually Erin’s birthday, we went out and had a wonderful evening.

I love not-exactly-martinis… and that’s all I’ll say about that!  Except to add, I apparently also really like calamari…

Erin, who also likes not-exacty-martinis, came to visit us last fall, by herself.  When she crossed the border, the guy asked her why she was coming, where she was staying and she told the truth – to visit her mother’s best friend.  The INS guy couldn’t believe that she’d want to visit her mother’s friend of her own free will but still let her come in.  On that visit, and on this one, I kept pinching myself to remember that I have known this girl literally all her life.  And I should probably tell her that next time she visits, she can just say she’s coming to visit her own good friend.

Anyway, Lynn and Erin’s visit was such fun, from martinis to waffles (waffle coma!  I’m in a waffle coma!), and all points in between.  It was fun because it was real, in person, lively, noisy, a little boozy.  Lynn and I talk often on Skype but, unless it’s after 5 and we’re both pooped & thirsty, it’s not that boozy or noisy.  Which, when you think about it, might not be such a bad thing.

I think what I really wanted to say writing this was that in my summer of not-quite-discontent, I have especially learned that friendships are vital to my well-being… to the well-being of us all, I should think.  Friends hold us up when life wants to bat us down; they remind us of our value and of our worth; they offer humour when we can only see sadness; they play with us when we need that and they make us work our butts off when we have to do that; they are reminders of our past and beacons to our future; they are part of us and, if we are good friends in turn, we are part of them.

When we give to our friends – encouragement, advice, succor, martinis – we give to ourselves.  Shared strength and love is doubled, not halved. So go!  Share some love and strength, and maybe an espresso martini.  And thanks for being my friend.

But just before you think I’m being a real sap, this came to me from one of those friends who stays with me through technology…. Her emails always make me smile.

Part 5: Loving Others’ Children

My friend Doug, who has a blog called Valley Road Rambler, wrote very recently about love, specifically about the nature of being and growing in love.  I thought it was an excellent meditation, but one which pointed out something I have believed for a long time: we don’t have enough words to express the sentiment “love”.

We use the same word when we describe our romantic feelings of being in love with another person, or loving our family members, or our friends, or a beautiful day or a favourite food.  The same word but not the same feeling… not really.  At least, I hope the love I feel for a good sweet melon in August is quite different from the love I feel watching my nieces and nephews play, which in turn is different from the two different sorts of love I feel when watching Jeffrey fix my grandfather’s lamp and then watching him walk across the house naked, on his way to the bath.

I have written elsewhere about another kind of love I learned about a couple of years ago – the love of a child when you’re responsible for her.  Like the love that rather overwhelmed me when Durita came into our lives as an exchange student.  She live with us for a little more than five months, and filled our house with laughter and chaos and delight and shoes, and I really haven’t been the same since.  She’s her mother’s child, but sometimes I think she’s also just a little bit mine, and I love that feeling.

We don’t have children by birth, but we have always been surrounded by children, in our families and in our work.  So many of them have pieces of our hearts, but I love them all separately and differently.  Durita, of course, is top of mind, but so are our other two children – another exchange student, Julie, who would tell her family in Norway that I was more than the older sister she had always wished she had.  And Bryan, a hockey goalie who lived with us for pretty much two seasons – so different having a boy than girls!  but a wonderful difference that I love and cherish, as I do him.

As for other family ties… there are 13 nieces and nephews on my side (plus a step-niece I think is pretty terrific) and 5 nieces and nephews on Jeff’s side, plus six great-nieces & nephews.  They range in age now from 6 to 27, certainly not all children any more.  It is, I’m afraid, a huge age gap, one which might keep them all from getting to know each other.  And certainly I don’t know all 24 of them as well as I wish I did – time, geography, family circumstances being what they are – but the love I feel for them is very strong, based not just on family ties but on who they are for themselves.

So many of the kids with whom I have worked stand out in my mind now too.  They enriched my life with their humour, their quick wit, their work ethic, their inability to tidy up a bedroom if their lives depended on it.  Of all the things that changed for me when SFT changed their mind about me, the one I miss the most is the chance to work with kids who love theatre as much as I do.  It’s something I hope I can find again soon – that opportunity to engage and enlarge the imagination of a child.

It’s a huge responsibility, that one of teaching.  You hope you’re hitting a nerve with the kids, giving them new ideas, offering new directions, but you can’t be sure, not right away, maybe not for months or years.  What you do know is that as a teacher, as an aunt, as a host parent you have given away some parts of your heart you’re never getting back.  You’ve love and have loved, and that has enriched your world in ways which you might not have suspected, but for which you can be forever grateful.