Cogitation 36/213 Saturday 7 September 2019 Thankfully, relationships with close friends do not always go smoothly or last without cultivation. What? Thankfully?
Friends keep one honest, on track, resilient. In touch with our humanity. Through a friend we can face our vulnerabilities, be there, learn to listen, pay heed, laugh, weep, be accountable, make things right, see life beyond our own ken, nourish the soul.
Friends help us develop a strenuous honesty about ourselves; they help show up the soft spots and the hard habits that cloud our lives. Friends recognize and help us celebrate the strengths and gifts we bring to life’s journey.
It’s hard to define friendship. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote that friends do not sign a contract. They’re free agents, free to explore deeper meanings in the mystery of life. A work colleague once said you know you’ve developed a deep level of friendship when you can talk back, argue, even insult each other, without fear of recrimination. Aristotle defined a friend as “A single soul dwelling in two bodies.”
The relationship between and among friends, then, really is not fraught with much rough going. Friendship means connecting, the other helping one get free of being root bound. Friends live out what is lasting. enlivening, uncharted, real. I like what Nicholas Grimald (1519-1562), in Of Friendship, said: “Of all the heavenly gifts that mortal men [women] commend, / What trusty treasure in the world can countervail a friend?”
Reconnecting with friends
Rules for Visiting, the novel by Jessica Francis Kane I mentioned in last week’s blog, zeros in on the life-affirming quality of friendship. The main character, May Attaway, 40 years old, is caught up in work as a botanist with a small team of groundskeepers at the university in the town where she lives. She’s hands-in-the-dirt, planning, planting, reflecting on the landscape of flowers, grass and trees. She says of her commitment, “To have an interest in gardens without gardening is like having an interest in food without eating.”
May is given a month of paid leave to use as she chooses. She decides to visit three friends from university that she hasn’t seen or been in touch with for a long time. She realizes she has become root-bound and ventures the hope that reconnecting with her old friends will rejuvenate her narrow confines. There’s uncertainty, her hesitation with life, but finally May resolves to use her paid leave to try and recover what has been lost.
I recommend the book. It sings in quiet elegance. You identify with the ordinariness and the sublime. The sketches of trees are a delight, as is their history. Toss in allusions to classical literature concerning life’s odyssey and you’ve got an engaging book friend in your hands.
The “Rules for Visiting” at the end of the book are what we already know, what May considers the essentials. They’re a welcome breath after vicariously traveling with May on her inward and outward journeys. Here are the 10 that can leap from the novel into real life:
- Do not arrive telling stories about the difficulties of your trip.
- Bring a gift.
- Make your bed and open the curtains. A guest room is not a cave just because it’s temporary.
- Help in the kitchen, if you’re wanted.
- Unless you are very good with children, wait until you hear at least one adult moving around before getting up in the morning.
- Don’t feed the pets.
- Don’t sit in your host’s place.
- If you break something, admit it.
- Say good night before bed.
- Always send a thank-you note.
May ends, “I have very few friends and not one of them is replaceable. May you settle and find good friends.”
A prayer for friendship maintenance
I value the sensibility that the writer of a prayer, Kathy Keay, brings to restoring friendships that have been broken. The prayer appears in The Complete Book of Christian Prayer (Continuum, New York, 1997). I know very little about Keay, other than she died in 1994 at age 40. Marion Osgood wrote a biography, Whatever Happened to Kathy Keay? I’ll have to look it up.
“Dear God, / Lover of us all, / do not let me go down into the grave / with old broken friendships unresolved. / Give to us and to all with whom / we have shared our lives / and deepest selves / along the Way, / the courage not only to express anger / when we feel let down, / but your more generous love / which always seeks to reconcile / and so to build a more enduring love / between those we have held dear / as friends.”
Friends and family
Food for friends
On Tuesday we visited Orchard Hill Farms in Noble County. The Redfree was one of the two varieties available at the moment. The orchard will harvest 31 varieties in total during the season August to December.
One of Orchard Hill’s favorite recipe is for Apple Brownies: 2/3 cup canola oil / 2 cups brown sugar / 2 eggs / 2 cups flour / 2 teaspoons baking powder / 2 cups peeled, cored, chopped apples / 2 teaspoons vanilla
Cream oil, sugar, add eggs and vanilla. Mix well. Add flour and baking powder. Stir well. Add apples. Bake in greased 9×13 pan 30-35 minutes. Baking temperature not given, but 350 degrees should do the trick.
Pause with a friend
Greencroft Goshen retirement community has lots of green space across campus. One of those spaces is called Friendship Park. You can sit in the gazebo with a few others or by yourself, listen to the birds, breathe in the outdoors, feel the seasons change.
In and out of season–that’s all the time–you can rely on best friends. What a trip.