Elisa and Nicole got me thinking about friendship today.
About the work of deepening into friendship. The time it takes to really know another person. The challenging of really ever getting to know another person.
It seems that we speak the same language, doesn’t it? Yet, so often we don’t speak the same language. A word that means something to you means something different to me. Our beliefs are different. We can each be using totally different words and concepts to express the same thing. Or maybe we’re using similar words and concepts but we’re light years apart in understanding.
What births a friendship? Two people seem to like one another. There’s a spark, a similarity perhaps a recognition. The two feel intrigued. They want to learn more.
Friendships often stay at the level of acquaintances, casual friends, passersby. We don’t (for any number of reasons) begin the work of nurturing, questioning, staying present.
If Life or happenstance decrees we sometimes do begin the work of exploring deeper with our friend. We find out the many different parts of the other person. We struggle or play with language. We find where we agree and disagree. We learn, oh we learn, how to be friends especially in that area of disagreement.
My friend, Melinda, and I deepened in friendship starting in 1999. We met at a spiritual retreat in the foothills of the mountains in Montana. We were setting up our tents and camping equipment. I looked over and saw a California hippy chick struggling with her sleeping bag zipper. She looked over and saw a Michigan housewife and asked for assistance. That’s where it all began.
For years we forged a common language. Even something as simple as the word “spirit” had to be examined. We talked about the word dream, the word love, the word life. We built a language in friendship, finally, finally, understanding what the other meant.
Years passed. We laughed, we talked, we cried, we argued. Yes we argued! We even quit speaking for a while. More than once. Yet something larger than each of us persevered in understanding.
Friendship can be like a marriage. It demands continual vigilance, communication, silence, space, forgiveness.
I’ve experienced this with other friends as well. Friends who have moved past the casual state of getting-to-know into deeper connection.
What does take to build a friendship? Presence. Being there for your friend. Being willing to listen. Being willing to suspend judgment (even if part of your mind judges, as it will so often.)
I used to think that I wanted friendship with everyone in the world. (Except for a few people whom we won’t mention here.) However, I’ve grown to recognize that as impossible. A person usually only has the time and inclination to be deep friends with a handful of folks. Otherwise, we’re not really present. We’re spreading ourselves too thin. We’re not allowing the compost of time and commitment to nurture this capacity to be deeply available for another person over the long term.
What have you learned about being a true friend? Do you have any advice to share?
Here is a small poem I wrote yesterday. It addresses what a true friend eventually discovers about us:
What can’t be said
What isn’t said in our blogs…in our lives…
What isn’t said.
So much is omitted, neglected, purposefully not shared.
We won’t embarrass our family, our friends. We won’t speak what can’t be spoken.
It might disturb someone we love.
It might disturb ourselves.
It might not be appropriate.
It might be wrong.
It might be.
I think of the blogs I could have written. Filled with my truth. My surmising My conjecturing.
But would it be truer than, say, a sunrise in late winter? Would my opinion be truer than yours?
We choose what to share.
We choose what may benefit either ourselves or others.
Sometimes we succeed.
Other times–well, not as much.
What isn’t said lurks behind words. It plays hide-n-seek. It shares our disappointments, our suffering, our shouldas, wouldas, couldas.
What isn’t said sometimes expresses ourselves more than what we choose to share.
You never–ever–know a person until you know what isn’t said.
Until you know what she doesn’t write, what she doesn’t type, what is omitted in the name of God or country or personal salvation or keeping-the-peace.
Yet I won’t write about what can’t–yet–be spoken. What is incubating. What is turning to compost. What is still seeking silence, or is forced to silence, or what refuses naked revelation.
Don’t suspect that you know any of us.
Not until you know what isn’t said.
What can’t be said.
May we all know a friend like that in our lifetime. A friend who listens beneath our words and truly wants to understand us. A friend who deeply strives to hear what can never be expressed except in shadows and half-truths and longings for communication and connection.