I am writing to you this afternoon from our “breakfast room” off of the kitchen in our new house in Alton, IL. As you can see, much has changed since I last wrote a post! About three weeks ago I graduated from St. John’s…
…and we packed up our apartment in Annapolis a few days later and set off on a three day road trip to Alton, stopping to visit some Haine sisters along the way. When we first arrived, we stayed with Tom’s parents, while we waited for our things to come on the moving truck.
We have been in our house for about two weeks now. So far so good! It’s a wonderful old house; of course, we have discovered its flaws now that we are actually living in it but they are fairly minor creaky and sometimes sloping floors, door latches that don’t work, paint colors we aren’t so sure of, etc).
The boys and I just worked for a few hours in our new yard. We have several garden beds that are very overgrown and a bit ratty, so I have been trying to clean and clear them out a bit. There aren’t many flowers blooming right now, although we discovered some beautiful scarlet lilies hiding behind a small tree up against our back fence. That was a pleasant surprise! Now that I have freed up some space, I think that I will plant at least sunflowers and herbs this summer. I’ll save more serious gardening for next summer.
It’s been so wonderful to have grandparents a few houses down and cousins a block away. We can run down to visit in our bare feet, stopping in to say a quick hello or bring over the family dance party with a speaker in one hand and a child in the other. We’ve been doing a good amount of visiting but also trying to spend some time as a family in our new house, so that we can settle in and get used to it. I could tell at first that the kids didn’t know what to do with themselves; as my mother-in-law pointed out, they were always looking for me but didn’t know where to find me.
Who knows what the next few months will bring here, but for now I would love to keep this blog even though I have finished at St. John’s. I will maintain the theme of books that I am reading as the anchor for the content, and now that school is done I can publish things a bit more often.
Before I start anything new though, I need to finish my thread on friendship! I have received several thoughtful responses to my last post on friendship, and I have appreciated these posts as opportunities to work out my own thoughts and challenges. Last time, I outlined six main difficulties that I have experienced in friendships. They were:
- lack of time
- the number of actual friends and potential friends
- moving and managing the distance between friends
- changes in ourselves and in our friends that bring tension to the friendship
- different expectations of what friendship is and what it requires or how important a particular friendship is
- lack of order and discipline
I managed to get through the first two last time, and today I will cover #3-4. Just a reminder, I am focusing on the challenges to deep friendship, not friendship in general. Basically, what keeps us from having that highest kind of friendship described by Aristotle?
3. Moving and Distance
This challenge is very à propos to my life right now, having just moved and now missing some of my best buds in Annapolis, wondering whether and how we will sustain our bonds. With modern mobility comes the sadness of frequently leaving good friends behind and having to navigate the new distance between us.
As Aristotle has said, friendship implies daily activity. Can you sustain that activity long-distance? My dear friend in Annapolis noted how sad it is that those friends with whom she feels most connected live so far away. Despite that connection, each is so busy with family and with life in their immediate surroundings that it’s too hard to have the intimacy she desires with those people; fundamentally, your day to day life does not include one another. Your lives cannot be intertwined. It is for that very reason that Aristotle thought that one should not expect a deep friendship to survive distance.
However, that was before the modern means of communication. Can these help keep the daily activity of deep friendship alive? I think they can to an extent, but it requires a lot of work and intentionality, which also needs to be reciprocated otherwise it doesn’t really work. I am also discovering how much it requires exclusivity—a choice of staying in touch with fewer people really well rather than many.
I have a loyal heart which feels a certain amount of guilt over losing touch with any one who once was my friend. I am learning to get over it, though it is still uncomfortable to let friendships go completely. Facebook did not help this, which is one of the reasons I ultimately deleted my profile. However, I always try to remain open to anyone who wants to stay in touch, and have often been surprised by who wants to make the effort after I have left a place.
Also, admittedly, I don’t think I have lived close to anyone (besides my dear husband) for long enough as an adult to adequately judge the quality of our friendship upon leaving it. Since college, itself only four tumultuous years, I have only lived in places for 1-2 years, and often the friendships in those places have existed for less than that and took a while to develop. “For though the wish for friendship comes quickly, friendship does not”—Aristotle nails it again. Perhaps my expectations for those friendships after moving away were not realistic given the short time of growth we had in the same place.
I have had a few friends with whom my friendship has actually grown deeper despite distance, but this is the exception rather than the norm. I think those cases are explained by a rare treasuring of one another, involving spiritual unity and moral likemindedness, and also, good habits. For, I have many friends with whom I feel a real love and connection, and we might be in touch a few times a year, but I don’t think that is the kind of deep friendship that we are talking about here. Again, that requires activity, not just a feeling of love and affection.
And now I have a completely different horizon for friendships—I have to start all over again yet the timeline is so different, perhaps indefinite. I think it will be good for me, slower but deeper growth over the long term.
4. Change (and I am adding here, Immaturity)
I always find it interesting how much other people can note the drastic growth and development of children when they aren’t with them every day. Even local friends who haven’t seen the kids in a few weeks will often comment with shock at some noticeable change in their size or facial features or their capabilities. I do the same thing to nieces and nephews and friends’ children! When you only see them once a year or less, the shock and surprise is even stronger. Yet, as a parent, although I definitely am aware of the changes and growth and often feel amazed by it, the change feels much more gradual and subtle. I cannot see their development so starkly unless I look at photos. Because I am with them everyday, I am growing alongside them, and my understanding of them is a continuous whole.
I think that this same phenomenon is present in adult friendships. While it is true that some friends and friendships are easier to reconnect with—when you’re with them after a long time, it can feel like “no time has passed”— still, when you are far apart and cannot live alongside them in the day-to-day, you lose that continuity in your understanding of each person. The changes don’t feel gradual or even necessarily make much sense. It’s hard when you cannot picture what a friend’s day is like, what kinds of thoughts she is thinking, who she is spending time with, what she is reading. All of those things inform who she is becoming.
I find that with my friends who are married and have children like me, it’s easier to “know” what’s going on in their lives and what’s on their heart a bit better without being told, and when we do talk, we often get to the vulnerable topics more quickly.
This issue of change seems most frequently felt with old childhood friends transitioning into adulthood. Aristotle recognized this challenge, particularly when it comes to differences in maturity. If you find that you yourself have matured into an adult, and your friend seems to remain a child, it is very hard for the friendship to be sustained.
This rings true for me: inequality in maturity makes old and new friendships difficult. What do I mean by maturity? I think of it in very plant-like metaphors: when has the human fruit reached its ripeness? Not in a physical way, but in an interior sense?
I recognize this ripeness in at least the following characteristics:
– a life marked by selflessness rather than selfishness (the modern mantra that we have to raise kids to be able to take care of themselves seems to me to be the bare minimum–we want them to surpass care for themselves and grow to be able to care for others). The good of human life is love; those most capable of love are most fully human.
– examined principles and beliefs held confidently enough to respect those of others’
– peacefulness and an un-self-conscious embrace of one’s personality, the quirks and unique tastes (even a peaceful recognition of one’s vices although not a celebration of them).
That’s just my basic stab at a description; actually, that’s worth reflecting on more later. And it’s not a static place one reaches perhaps, but a progression, a working upwards, and as long as one is on that climb, it is possible to be friends with people who are further along the path. When I think of some of the older women with whom I am friends, I wouldn’t say that we are exactly at the same level of maturity, but somehow we recognize in each other the manifestation of it in our own ages and stations in life.
Well, that’s all for today. I have to get moving on some chores here. More on friendship to come soon!