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J. and I have been driving for four hours or so, with C. asleep in the back seat. Even though the setup is perfect, we haven’t had a single DMC1 yet, just a stream of banter as we find the places where our senses of humor fit together. Is something wrong, or is this good? Is this how friends are?

There are some things you can ruin just by thinking about them too hard. All we have to do for friendship, maybe, is to put in motion the heavenly mechanism that already exists in us; when we scheme, when we calculate, we ruin all.

With J. it wasn’t like that. I didn’t pursue him or suck up to him or emulate him or seek him out or employ any of the hundred tricks I had so often used to Make Friendship Happen. I just did what I did, and found that he and I had unexpectedly fallen into step. The greatest blessings are the ones we don’t expect.

There in the car, I had the impulse to bring up something heavy, something personal. It was a manipulative instinct: if I could get him talking about something that he wouldn’t talk to just anyone about, it would be another confirmation (I always wanted more!) that we were Really Friends. A forced bond is better than no bond at all, and if you bond with somebody, that makes it less likely that they’ll leave you behind.

But I decided not to manipulate. It was pure grace, or a nudge from my long-suffering angel, that made me remember something Father T had just told me about patience.

Patience means not only being willing to wait for the end of something, but staying alongside it the whole time: not just waiting for the fruit of the tree, but watching as it grows, loving the dirt and the sap and the rain, rejoicing in the bud and the blossom as well as the apple; not only because they are necessary precursors, but because they too are ends, are good.

And I remembered how, in dirty church basements, I and the other support-groupers would tell each other all our old shames and fears, wring ourselves dry, try to get it all out in an effort to know and be known, understand and be understood. How it helped, and how it missed the point.

It’s a great blessing to find that you can speak the unspeakable and not be reviled. But only time makes friends out of strangers; and at the end of the night, or the month, or the year, we hardly knew each other any better than at the start.

You’d think our secrets would make us most ourselves, but they turn out to be the same as everybody else’s. Everyone hurts in the same ways, everyone debases themselves in the same squalid rituals that every priest has heard and absolved and forgotten ten million times.

What we really own, and what makes us delight in our friends, are those sparks of self that dance along our surfaces: the unrepeatable gesture, the characteristic chortle, the way that only he will react to something that only you would think of saying.

It takes time. I settle back, grin, and belt out the chorus to the Zeppelin song on the radio. We grow so slowly! But patience is another kind of joy.

6 thoughts on “Slowly

  1. JBT

    Woohoo, first comment! (Too bad it’s just me ripping off CSL.)

    In a perfect Friendship this Appreciative love is, I think, often so great and so firmly based that each member of the circle feels, in his secret heart, humbled before the rest. Sometimes he wonders what he is doing there among his betters. He is lucky beyond desert to be in such company. Especially when the whole group is together; each bringing out all that is best, wisest, or funniest in all the others. Those are the golden sessions; when four or five of us after a hard day’s walk have come to our inn; when our slippers are on, our feet spread out toward the blaze and our drinks are at our elbows; when the whole world, and something beyond the world, opens itself to our minds as we talk; and no one has any claim on or any responsibility for another, but all are freemen and equals as if we had first met an hour ago, while at the same time an Affection mellowed by the years enfolds us. Life–natural life–has no better gift to give. Who could have deserved it?

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  2. Patty

    Wonderful post. My squalid struggles might be different in practice than yours but at the end of the day (or night) they’re still squalid struggles–against myself and manipulative ways. I’m 53 1/2 and I still don’t fall into effortless friendships, even in the Body of Christ. (I think they’re a myth.) But you hit the nail on the head with this piece and I thank you.

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  3. TMC

    Friendship is an interesting thing. I think so often we want friendships because we want to know who we are. When we look at ourself and find that we are looking at a stranger, wondering who this person is, that is the moment that maybe a connection with some one else would help define self. If this person connects with me, maybe I can find something that I can connect to about myself as well. The vision of other, of grace and mission, sometimes alleviates that need to force connections. Forced intimacy in relationships is so often a focus on what you do not understand about ourself instead of trusting in the mission that you fulfill as an follower of Christ, as a mother or father, as a son, daughter, brother or sister. I think that every person at some moment in life struggles with that. The grace of natural positions in life can be wonderful safety net that help us “be” until we come back to an understanding and a recognition of ourself in the journey of grace.

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  4. Sarah

    Love this, Steve. I have that same impulse to force bonds, and for the same reasons: affirmation and Relationship Insurance. A while ago, I decided to make a conscious effort to squash those manipulative impulses … but it is a conscious effort.

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  5. Pingback: Reflections of a Paralytic » Patience

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