Like many of you, lately I have been missing my friends. I always loved the song “You got a friend in me” by Randy Newman, introduced a quarter century ago (!) in Pixar’s “Toy Story”. Even through all its sequels, somehow the spinners of animated tales still manage to imbue those little toys with heart and personality that capture our own feelings so well. Joy, hope, loneliness, uncertainty, change – that band of playthings went through it all, and we grew along with them. Woody and Buzz went through a lot – but not COVID. That was reserved just for us humans.
While we approach the six-month mark here in San Francisco of “shelter in place” – I have been missing so many of my friends. Having moved here in late 2017, most of my longtime friends are now hundreds of miles away. Since arriving, between getting married, work and other adjustments, social life has been squeezed in when possible – until it wasn’t, in March. There are new friendships forming, of course, but being retired and now having no “active” social life – I feel everyone’s ongoing absence more deeply. As much as zoom and Facetime and google meets and, well, even this blog are ways to stay connected – they cannot make up for human touch, for moments of laughter, for a quiet walk or a thousand other ways we find to be truly together.
Friendship is kind of an ethereal, mystical force in some ways, coming and going, unpredictable, always evolving. There are all kinds of friendships, they say – some for a season, a few hopefully for a lifetime. Growing up and for much of my “adult” life, I was never really good at feeling close to others, understandably from my personal history, but I have worked on it and continue to. It was not that I did not care, but that I did not feel I fit in, or could be fully accepted, or truly belonged. Yet, over the years, there have been friends that remained close, even now from afar. Still … as months pass, even pre COVID, those connections are somehow fading … and perhaps that is healthy. I have never moved away before – never left everything, and everyone, behind to make such a significant change in every area of my life.
It’s normal that I don’t want to “let go” – I don’t want those long term relationships to end, whether they originated from shared interests like Disneyland and movies, from work relationships that turned into trust, caring and closeness, from church and other community commitments, or from my more recent coming to terms with parts of myself I had to learn to accept, coming out, and making new friends in that process. Yet – the time comes, we must let go. And then, continue to reach out again, and again. I am learning to reach out here, not just to ask, but to give. I treasure all those friends, old and new, far and close.
There were, over the years, friends that drifted away, or relationships that ended on less than optimal terms. I realize in hindsight that I held an unrealistic expectation of some now lost friends – and vice versa. Sadly, some ended as I grew into being more of me, and less of what I thought I was supposed to be for others – becoming authentic; coming out was a part of that, but not all of that. Some wanted care, support, answers from me that I could not give – and likewise I wanted more than others could offer. A few wanted me to be who I used to be for them; some could not accept my life any longer, I had fallen from grace in their eyes, or lost my way. It wasn’t always direct – but the undercurrent was clear enough. And that’s just part of life – we move on. I hope, for all of them, they are finding their way to happiness still.
Funny, though, how some of the closest and most long enduring relationships come from my professional life – coworkers that in time became more. For many of us, we spend more time with our office team than with our family. We recently re-watched “The Office” finale which perfectly portrayed the awkward balance between tolerating and caring about those people and, then in time, moving from that “home” to a new, beckoning future. There was a song featured towards the end of the finale, actually written by Creed Bratton, actor and musician – called “All the Faces”. Here is a bit of the lyrics, and a link to a fan video with Office moments.
“I saw a friend today, it had been a while. And we forgot each others names.
But it didn’t matter cause deep inside the feeling still remained the same.
We talked of knowing one before you’ve met, and how you feel more than see,
and other worlds that lie in spaces in between, and angels you can see.
And all the faces that I know have that same familiar glow.
I think I must’ve known them somewhere once before
All the faces that I know.Creed Bratton, “The Office” finale – All the Faces that I know
2020 has been a year of challenge we could never have expected. In the past nearly half year, I have seen friends lose jobs, lose family – yes, even lose their lives, leaving loved ones behind grieving. Sell their homes, move away to new ones, or risk losing all they had to fire. Some started new lives; their children graduate without an audience, their spouses have been hospitalized and hopefully recover; others are thinking about leaving the country of their birth in frustration; one has welcomed a new grandchild to their family. But I see people turning on one another daily – on the news, in my own circle of relationships, and online. Sometimes over politics, or faith, or some position on an issue that they feel strongly about – whatever the reason, some doors are closed, perhaps forever. All this and more happened in the lives of my friends since we entered this strange era. These events would mostly have happened apart from Covid, but somehow, we all seem to be carrying an extra weight, a longer shadow. These are the times they – all of us – need one another more than ever. We must not burrow into our caves, but reach out, even more – it takes work.
True, some friendships endure a lifetime – but most fade. We don’t want to let go, sometimes – we need one another; but it happens. Like the tender strands of a web that stretch in the wind, and in time – are loosed, and eventually unwind except in our memory. That friendship connection is a force of mystery, it’s lifespan unknown, its purpose uncertain – do we nurture it? Do we make it a priority? As we see gaps between ourselves, I can only offer you this suggestion – don’t throw away what you have. Try to build on it; try to keep it alive. Yes, there are times that moving on is best – knowing those moments is kind of hard right now, when no one is really themselves, and everyone is in a personal pressure chamber with the steam building every day. We need each other, friends, now and past, future and yet to be.
Nearly a year ago now, I took a trip to see old friends down south – not knowing of course that it would be the last trip away from my new home for a yet to be determined time. I’m grateful I had the chance. A kind of reunion tour, not being able to see everyone in that short time, but having moments with many, seeing faces light up, remembering what we shared and setting aside what might have been. Here are some moments, and faces, from that trip that I treasure – we may not meet again.
There is a kind of longing, a yearning in my heart and perhaps yours hearts that seems to remain; we may learn in time that others cannot be, never could be, everything we needed or wanted. We start to see not a glass half full, or half empty – instead, seeing no glass at all, just an appreciation for what is there, now, today. Letting go of the longing for “more”, to treasure what is in our lives at this moment – choosing to say “yes – this is enough”. And to work on being a channel to others of what we seek ourselves. We become part of a living network of souls, rising, falling, reaching out and for a moment dancing together, parting and moving on.
Which brings me back to our friends, Woody, Buzz and all those little toys, and most recently Toy Story 4. Spoiler alert, folks! I saw this in the theater last year – in a way, it felt almost like an existentialist reflection on what does it mean to be alive, but maybe that was just me. In any case – at the end of the film, Woody has to make a choice. He chooses a new path, but in that – realizes he also must choose to, for now, say goodbye to those who became his family for so long. In a way, I think COVID, and distance, is forcing that for some friendships. Here is the end of that film, which, if you haven’t seen it – might give you some joy for a couple of hours.
My friends – present, and past – I miss you dearly. You have taught me so much; your gentle kindnesses, small perhaps to you, encouraged me to accept myself the way you did. Your open minds and hearts showed me that people who are different can still truly care for one another without expecting change. Your courage in the face of trials and challenges inspired me to find strength to stand for what I work for. Your openness to different ways of thinking helped me to escape my own narrow vision and tinier world for a greater reality. Perhaps most of all, the fact that you showed me love does not have to be perfect to have worth, helped me to work towards finding my own voice – and now, in the days ahead, to try to share these lessons with others. God knows there are many surrounding each of us that just need a little love.
We are trying our best to stay afloat in the winds of change, and we may not be together again, certainly not in the foreseeable future. So let me say this clearly, from my heart. I hope you are well, and loved, and finding hope. And, I miss all my friendships that, for whatever reason – deliberate, their choice, my choice, or just “happened” – aren’t there anymore. I wish I could say to them, and I say to you who read this – thank you.
Thank you,friends, for being a special part of a chapter in my life, and even though it is closed, you are still there, always in my heart, not forgotten.