April 13, 2019

863D5863-DA26-4260-824B-79407B32E358I am spending this weekend in close (i.e. bunk beds in dorm rooms) fellowship with hundreds of women. Glorious companionship and estrogen overload…? Pardon the sarcasm: kinda couldn’t resist that after the image I described. In all seriousness, though, I have been needy for friendship. I had a revelation the other day that I blurted out when it popped into my head. “I have no friends!” And I made this particularly endearing comment in conversation with an acquaintance I was actually hoping would become a friend. Gee-now that’s going to make someone decide to jump up to the lonely plate, right? But what I realized, less dramatically, is that I have grown spoiled by a life of hardship. Yes, I meant to say that. Living as foreigners in somewhat remote areas of the world, I have spend years taking on all-consuming sorts of work while surrounded by other foreigners doing the same thing. In that setting, what happens is that you make fast, and strong, bonds with those in your community, not “wasting” time on any preliminary small talk that may be commonplace in more relaxed settings or situations. In short, I have had community that I have not had to work to achieve. So much so that my default life pattern has been to try to run away from social situations, needing more solitude than my life was allowing.
Things have changed.
I used to walk from home to work each day, and bike 5 minutes to shop, swim, and visit others. We now live in a house that sits on 2 acres, in a rural setting that requires long commutes to get anywhere.
My close friends used to live on the other side of our living room wall. I could literally raise my voice and be heard by someone who knew me—or, at least, who knew my role, my habits, and my daily needs. My only regular friends now are members of my own family. In one sense, this is a very good thing; I needed to learn how to be a grownup with my family. I also needed to learn how to be a friend to my husband (as opposed to my default “doing” of daily life, in which I take his presence for granted).
But back to the present: this morning I was too late for breakfast to sit next to the one I’d decided would be my friend here, from our first conversation Thursday night. Yes, “decided” (presumptuous, perhaps?). So I grabbed a seat at another table and found myself seated next to a bright-eyed, eager-for-smalltalk sort of Southern lady. You know the type …right? She asked me a series of stereotypical questions about how I liked living in the US again, and if I was ready to be settled. I started to revert to my annoyed clamming-up reaction, that my sociable husband often rescues me from. Then I caught myself doing it, and decided to instead try to be conversationally creative. I asked her a few questions about her own life and, well, I guess the tables were turned on me. Over the next half hour, I found myself amazed at the stories that this Canadian (yep) educator-turned-retreat-founder had to share. We had numerous “What? You too? I thought I was the only one…” moments (reference credit to C.S. Lewis). And I left that table inspired to seek out a few dreams I’d been trying to shove down as impractical or frivolous. Rejoined by my “chosen” friend 😉, I was able to go into the next morning session with an infinitely better attitude. Because when it comes down to it, aren’t we all making assumptions about those who surround us? And, conversely, aren’t others making similar assumptions about us?
I cannot afford to rest on my laurels and assume that friendship will find me. What was that about kindergarten learning? Shouldn’t I have learned this lesson when I was five years old? Slow learner, I suppose … or perhaps, more likely, just ridiculously hard-headed. You gotta be a friend if you want to have friends. Presumably…

*during today’s afternoon free time, I was intent on experiencing all the activities available, with my thoughts being that, as much as I am truly a lover of home and routine, I have to do the different and hard things in order to be truly grateful for the “boring” stuff that I actually thrive on. So I hiked to the top of the mountain. And I climbed to the top of a telephone pole, with the sole purpose of jumping off once I got to the top. Well, I was actually supposed to use the baton in my hand to ring a bell suspended in front of me-my supreme athletic coordination notwithstanding, I did not ring the bell. The best thing I did this afternoon, however, was climbing into a large, bubble-butted harness, pull my shoulder straps so that I was hunched into a position reminiscent of an oversized baby in a full-body diaper, and then pull a lever that would hurl us down for one exhilarating giant swing ride. I started out standing in line as a “single” participant, but two other women summoned me over to join them. The three of us held hands, falling together, screaming together, swinging together … laughing together. I stood in that line out of a somewhat mopey desire to distract myself from what I really wanted to do (jump in the lake, which was not yet allowed this season). But I left that line grinning widely, and knowing that today was good. Perfect? No. But good.

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