Meeting on the Bridge

Previously Published in the Hughson Chronicle-Denair Dispatch

 

This is the first year I have used the internet on my phone. Taking advantage of the novelty, friends are introducing me to the apps they love. My husband prefers TelegramX for communication. Anything to get a response, says I.

The program has been useful, like leaving a voicemail without the long automatic introduction or using a walkie talkie. With it, I correspond daily with a Minnesotan my friend.

During the notorious Arctic Blast we Californians only read about, she sent me a screenshot to show me their forecast. -20, windchill of (meaning feels like) -49. According to the news, if she stayed outside for more than a few minutes she could have gotten frostbite. There were accidents on the freeway as sudden gusts swirled the snow around in a white-out.

Meanwhile, here in the Central Valley, our temperatures moved above 60 degrees. The sun came out. The rain slowed down. Pink flowers pushed aside the wood chips of my desolate yard and promised spring.

My children rushed to the front yard to play and bike whilst I sat with a cup of afternoon Joe and the latest issue of Magnolia Magazine. Neighbors began to pass by again. It has been a cold winter for California.

Meanwhile, my friend read Ramona to her girls and Ella Enchanted to herself by the fireplace, wishing her car would have started so they could have bought more eggs, but grateful to live in a townhouse where the heating bills are low.

The same day. The same country. Connected and communicating over technology. Yet, we are worlds apart.

“You don’t have to tell me every time you say it’s cold that you know it isn’t cold like Minnesota. I’ve lived in warm places. I know how it is,” she finally said. I was chilly because life in Northern California has led me to forget how to dress appropriately for winter. PG&E rates keep me from setting the thermostat as high as I would like it.

Perhaps I expected her to roll her eyes if I said it was cold or to retort, “that’s not cold!”

Perhaps I thought she might feel resentful like I was rubbing our California warmth in her face.

Perhaps…

But instead, she acknowledged that we live in different climates, and so, acclimate differently. A Californian need not demonstrate the Minnesotan hardiness in winter. We can do that this summer.

We seem to go under or overboard in acknowledging that we cannot understand the experience of the other. How can I call it cold here when I speak to someone in the tundra? I overcompensate. Or I hush and stop sharing altogether. My suffering is not like her suffering.

Then what happens? The bridge weakens from lack of use, from weathering without fulfilling its potential. I lose the habit of divulging life’s in’s and out’s. She will not understand.

 

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But she did understand. And she told me so. I kept on sharing. She listened to my messages about the warm weather and felt happy for me. I listened to her messages about baking and having AAA tow her car. I asked questions to learn more about how one manages the mishaps of an Arctic Blast. She asked me questions about almond crops.

We kept up the communication, kept up the messages, as we do: sharing news, sharing complaints, discussing ideas. In different places, but still meeting on that bridge. Silent on some days, finding that golden mean Aristotle was so fond of: not too much, not too little, but just right.

We are capable of understanding. I can imagine your suffering. Because I am human, because I have a brain, because I can ask questions to fill in the gaps. I may not be able to imagine how I might act in it. Maybe I should set the thoughts about myself aside when I probe. Instead, I can form the image of what you endure.

And then what happens? California’s temperatures drop. Minnesota’s temperature’s rise. There is snow on the foothills. There are flurries in Minnesota. We share in the delight of one of nature’s strangest gifts. Had we drifted when our experiences diverged, we could not have shared the joy when meeting again on the bridge.

 

 

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How to Find Friends When You’re All Grown-up

Sharing with you the wisdom of Rebecca Frech and Fountains of Carrots.

Previously published in the Hughson Chronicle-Denair Dispatch

 

In infancy, no one but the mother exists in the infant’s eyes. Solitary play is good enough, as long as Mother (the primary giver) is near.

In early childhood, parallel play makes for best friends. They may not speak to each other or know each others’ names, but being in the same room, doing their thing, makes them favorites, like two adult introverts reading separate books on the couch.

Later in toddlerhood, group play arises with communication and rules of conduct. Consequences are administered when the rules are broken. Social skills are learned. For some, this gives away to private conferences and sharing secrets. For others, it transfers to team sports and online gaming. Friendships are negotiated and renegotiated but within our social structure, they still take place largely at school.

Until we graduate.

Then we work.

And the same thing continues. We become work friends until the day we ask each other out to lunch. Then we move to the new stage of more-than-work-friends.

For the person who leaves office camaraderie for freelancing or homemaking or a toxic workplace, the realization may come that outside of having proximity, we have no idea how to form and maintain friendships.

 

 

In an interview on Fountains of Carrots, Rebecca Frech, author of “Can We Be Friends?” points out the awkward truth. With the societal changes in our communities, we are going to have to learn how to make friends and it is going to feel an awful lot like dating.

Yet, such boldness as asking someone out because you would like to be friends is surprisingly refreshing. One such friend took that step with me. I was leaving office-life for freelance-life. We broke bread together during my last week and she, in characteristic awkwardness, said she wanted to be friends. We called it “declaring our friendship.” It helped cut through the period of wondering, harkening back to junior high, “does she like me?”

I am usually the one to call and schedule, but that is okay because I know where we stand.

Another friend, from the same office, is much more comfortable with expressing sentiment than I am. With maturity, instead of “you’re my best friend forever” she said, “you’re my closest friend in Modesto.”

I gesticulated, emotionally, “it’s mutual.”

Meanwhile, the drama that would normally break friendship elsewhere in my life was mitigated by my saying, “I like you and want to continue this friendship.” That friend and I spoke openly and honestly, problem-solving the issues at hand.

It is hard and difficult and vulnerable. Some are afraid to put themselves out there and ask a potential friend to lunch. Others let the priorities of work and home take precedence over the indulgence of a Friday Frozé or Taco Tuesday without the kids.

 

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Photo by photo-nic.co.uk nic on Unsplash

 

 

Some of the keys to forming friendships, according to Frech include,

 

first,

acknowledging it will not be easy. It will be awkward.

 

Second,

accepting that you may be the person who has to lead and ask the other person out. Standing around waiting for a friendly phone call may not work if the other person is also waiting.

 

Third,

anticipating the awkwardness of dating. It takes time to know if your personalities “mesh.” If you hang out a few times and it fizzles out, that’s okay.

 

Fourth,

asking the other to step forward if you are doing all the initiating. For friendships to grow, there needs to be a give and take. Sometimes, individuals get comfortable in the roles they have found through family or marriage as the go-getting or receiver, but a new friendship requires new flexibility.

 

Fifth,

understanding that the best friends for you right now might be very different from the friends you’ve had. Those with the external match up (Football! Homeschooling! Bunches of children! Same church!) may not match up internally for what you need right now. There are benefits to be gained when the other is busy in different ways than you.

 

Frech advises, identify what you need. Are you looking for intellectual stimulation? Are you looking for in-person friendships which social media cannot fulfill? Do you need someone with shared values because those you’re surrounded with have a different worldview? Once you know, you can start actively looking for that person by going to places where people are (because you can’t do this at home!).

Then ask, date, and see where the road takes you.

The Good Life: You Scratch My Back and I’ll Scratch Yours

TheWomen1939

Friendships seemed so simple when we were little. Growing from friendships of proximity (if she plays with me at the park, she’s my friend) to clubhouses, to rule-governed friendships, to she who can braid my hair is my best friend or whoever has the X-box, and eventually the emotional closeness, support, conversation and dedicated time of adolescence. In a short span of time we see a wide range of friendships come and go.

Teens hunger for time with friends, even after full days at school with them. What was once hours on the phone is now hours texting or using social media with friends. Friendship requires more than proximity to make it work. There is a bit of the utilitarian aspect, perhaps this person invited me to sit so I won’t be alone.

Those friendships of utility are common, but one’s usefulness changes. The friends are pleased to work with each other, but may not choose to see each other outside of the useful environment. The friendships dissolve quickly when the usefulness of the relationship goes away. It may seem shallow and not a friendship, but when they last a long time, a bond develops. That bond is one of comrades, having been associated for so long, having been through so much together, the relationship evolves.

To read more, click here.

To see other articles by Kathryn Casey (domesticphilosophy/owner of The Good Life – Life Coaching) from the weekly column, “Here’s to the Good Life!” published in the Hughson Chronicle, republished online at Coachingthegoodlife.org/resources

THE PRINCESS

Portrait of Two Women 1914

The king spoke to the girl, “I want you to take care of my daughter. Show her where you live and your life, but help her to prepare for what I am asking of her. She has spent many years on the battlefield, now I would like to take her to rest. I want you to take care of her.”

The moment the two girls were placed in a room together the girl knew the friendship would be deep. The king had given them many things in common and he loved them both. She was honored to care for his daughter, to be escorting a princess around her home and escort her to the halls of the palace.   The king always walked with the princess alone once she arrived, but he still invited both girls both in, showing them pieces of what he had planned for his princess.

To the princess the girl was only a girl—little in light compared, but a joy to share a friendship with. The princess knew the king very well, loved him well, followed him well with dignity and stature. At times the princess fought with the king, as any daughter would. Her love was simple as a rose: beautiful with some thorns. It was as awe-inspiring to the girl as a rose with water drops, to one who had never left the desert.

The girl could look at the princess and already envision the crown. How lovely it was on her fair skin and how it brought out the love in her eyes.

Ah princess! The girl shared with her the dusty home inside the walls but neither were of that place. In their conversations it was like they were in an oasis, everything was bright and new and blessed by their good king. The girl loved her, cared for her, served her and stood by as king prepared his princess for the throne.

“Please, take care of her,” the king recommended ways for the girl to do this. “Do what you can to take care of her. Offer to care for her. Live to serve her if you must. If you do this, it will be a great favor to me. I asked you to do this, no one else. You have helped, but you are the one I chose to care for my princess.”

It was an honor and also a delight. The girl liked the princess. When they talked, they laughed and joked and enjoyed each others’ company. They loved each other and leaned on each other in a deeper way than a normal friendship. It made sense. They had been entrusted to each other, after all. The girl learned from this princess the ways of royalty. She learned to be royal one must be persistent, humble, daring, loving, and gentle. She must be soft-spoken, almost afraid to feel love because the magnitude of real love was so pure that it strains the walls that contain it. It makes itself attentive to the individuals nearby.

She sat with her king one evening. The princess was talking to her guardian who directed and guided her. The king and the girl sat alone, in the stars, with the night air blowing, the light dimly lit, and much peace. “I had a hard day today, my king, but I did one thing good.”

“What did you do?”

“I met someone you sent to the battlefield. I remembered what that felt like and I asked him if he thought he should write what the battlefield looked like before going back into the garden, so he would remember, because…you know, I have forgotten so much.”

He king responded, “I know him of whom you speak. Thank you for sharing. It is good to remember. You have done well.”

“But I started to lose you and I wanted to cry.”

“Then what did you do?” The king asked.

“I spent some time with your princess, taking care of her as you asked.”

“Do you feel better?”

“When I don’t think about that feeling, I feel better. It makes me become sick again, very easily.” That feeling…it oppressed her.

“I know. Continue to fight it. Some days you will be stronger; some days you will be weaker. You won’t die from it, I promise.”

“Thank you. You are such a good king.”

“Yes, but you didn’t spend much time with me today.”

“I wanted to, I tried to,” she said.

“We were together this afternoon and you hardly talked to me,” he pointed out.

“I’m sorry.”

“I want to spend that time talking to you, with you. We have so many moments just being together, that time is for talking. Silence…yes, it is good, but I tell you that so that you can listen better, be distracted less. We should be talking.”

“What should I do?” she asked.

“Darling, don’t be afraid to be natural, to just be with me, where your heart is.”

“I love you,” she told him. He smiled. Ah, how he warmed her heart.

“Remember the princess; she’s in your care. You will do beautifully.”

‘Thank you for bringing her to me.”

“You are both in a special situation. You both are grateful for many things. I am helping you, because this is not the test, it is full of gifts. She is preparing for something very great, and it seems very large to her because she is so small. You haven’t experienced that before, but I am helping you understand by explaining it to you. I will explain these things to you, because you’re still too young to understand. This way you will not be confused or misunderstand or envious because I am not preparing you as I am her.”

“I am not confused or misunderstanding or envious. My heart is all yours.” In the good moments she could say that. He knew in the difficult moments the seeds of those feelings grew.

Though he knew her weakness, the king acknowledged that she made a gift of her heart in the imperfect way she could. He kissed her on the side of her temple and drew away from her. “Now, say good night to my princess and rest. You may meet some struggles tomorrow. Rest for them.”

 

With the Princess busy at the palace, the king led the girl inside the walls and showed her the work he desired. And she thought she did not need patience! She saw better after she began the job he set her to. The girl was sympathetic of others’ struggles, but had no excuses for herself. She felt so frustrated. By the end of her shift, her head her because of all the moments when she did not know, did not understand, could not answer. She was supposed to serve the knights, but she was failing. How much she needed patience then.

The princess’s presence made her reflect on her own possible entry into the palace. Her hear was moved seeing  the example of the princess’s heart. She desired that marriage much deeper. She even felt she had been made for only the king and his marriage alone.

Those in the village around her thought the girl had changed her mind, that she would not marry the king after all. She still did not like them to mention it. No, she would never change her mind. She loved him. Her heart felt made for him, only sometimes she got distracted by other men while she waited. Her little friend from the palace explained to her that she must continue to prepare her wedding garment for that wedding day.

She understood a lot. She understood that on-edge feeling of her friend; she remembered the “yes” from the king “all things to your heart…yes.” She understood the sadness of those soldiers being transferred to other places; she understood the eagerness of that soldier leaving the battlefield for the garden. She encouraged him to remember the battlefield lest he forget the fight while the garden was being tended.

How sad she grew after working. How little her heart could handle and how awful her heart hurt. But then, she looked over and saw her king beside her, watching her, loving her. His presence made her heart warm. All the frustrations, the not-knowing, it was all there, but it would all be okay. It would be okay. He was there, that would be enough. And she loved it. She would love it because he had asked her to. And she loved him.

“Stay with me, king,” she said, “you are all I have. I can learn nothing without you standing right there.”

He stayed in her heart.

He would not leave.

“You’ll have your heart’s desire,” he promised.

 

Yesterday and the day before, she cried. The day had been so hard and as she said goodbye to him, she gave him that pain, kissed the fabric of his robe and left to pick up the princess. Before she left he gave her a beautiful painting filled with pink and light. He met her there at the palace, only a moment later. Her heart was worn down, and in his presence, in his love, with his caring eyes and face that made all her heart let go—she began to cry in front of everybody.

She stood by him and a knight placed their hands together and very firmly pressed the king’s hand into hers. She could feel the compassion of the knights and ladies-in-waiting. She was comforted and she was near her king, still worn down—but having cleansed her heart of the roughness, she knew she could go on and face it again. Why was she so depressed?

The king stayed with her.

Unfriending the Stranger: on the need more stratification in relationships

Have we lost the distinction between friend, stranger and acquaintance? It seems like it goes without saying, yet I wonder if the value of boundaries is becoming more and more lost in our culture.

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Real Simple panelists proposed five “old-timey” traditions they would like to see brought back. One panelist while proposing the return of titles to identify distance where distance exists snuck in a secondary proposal to bring back the handshake and hug a lot less. Hugging. I enjoyed youth group as a junior high student because it provided me the opportunity to hug the cute freshman in the group. As I grew older, I liked hugging less and less and found it more and more in all circumstances. My hairdresser, who I like very much, gives me a hug as I leave and while in experience it doesn’t seem so bizarre, saying it out loud points out the strangeness of it.

We call random connections on Facebook our “friends.” A friend denotes an intimate, someone with whom I share similar goals, views and confidences. On Facebook, these are merely connections who see what I post. It’s like we opt to be bodies occupying a room where I can hear and see what the other does. I can choose to leave the room anytime. Online we call that “unfriending.” Whether we like it or not, “unfriending” becomes laden with emotion. Rather than “unfriend” someone, which rejects the person, I can just choose not to “follow” him or her. On other social media sites I have “followers.” At best a follower denotes someone who follows me around. Some would see it as a disciple. As I said before, it’s merely being in the same room, or in terms of blog websites, becoming a subscriber. The terms make it so very personal.

Boundaries are diminished. Couples couple on their first date or even without a date but at a party. Rather than going out on dates to get to know people, we “go out” and enter a committed intimate relationship in order to get to know the person.

If everyone is my friend, if everyone is in my intimate circle of hug receivers, then I must up the ante to show those who are truly on the inner circle. I will have to marry an intimate friend, opposite sex or not, or even myself, because we must be allowed to love. We must be allowed public recognition of our uniquely close relationship.

If I referred to acquaintances, or they referred to me,  by my title (Mrs.) then an intimate would be indicated by calling me by my first name. Friendships would be indicated by first name + spending time together. Deeper friendships would be indicated by first name + spending time together + spending time with my family + a hug upon greeting or saying good bye. Marriage would be indicated by all those things and so much more.

Legally society is not greatly stratified. There is marriage. There are civil unions in some cases. There are common law marriages. And then there is nothing. I read once (I apologize for not remembering the source, though I believe it published through First Things) a proposal for legal recognition of more types of relationships, without the need to call it marriage. If two sisters live together and care for each other in their old age, there is no legal recognition given to that relationship. If one sister has an estranged child, that child has more claim than the sister who has done everything for her.

So I am proposing more steps. They need not all be romantic as in marriage because not all intimate love is romantic. Our society is hyper-sexualized and would question the nature of the relationship between those two sisters. They may just be intimate friends sans physical intimacy. Such a thing does exist.

Now, I live in California. I know my ideas/discussions here reflect that. The coasts strive to be avante garde. California is both cutting edge on cultural trends and extremely casual. I recognize what I see taking place in cultural trends does not reflect the whole of the United States, although I do think times are a-changin’ and we’re all affected to some degree, the coasts (and college towns) likely being the most extreme.

It starts with one person and how he or she builds their relationships, then teaches a group, perhaps a youth group or their group of children. Christianity has, throughout history, functions as a subculture, something counter-cultural and a little underground. We’ve tried courtship (which in this discussion means you are either my friend or marriage potential, little in between), and for many, it has been found lacking. Maybe a new approach is worth looking at.