Sunday, November 28, 2010

Too Many Friends?

Shafts of sunlight poked holes in the heavy clouds that hung on the horizon. My camera attempted to capture the morning of our last day aboard Oceania’s “Regatta”. Like the weather, with its conflicting messages, I had mixed feelings, whilch were like the beautiful sunrise that would disappear too soon. The prior 14 days had been extraordinary but the voyage was coming to an end. There was sadness, as I knew I would miss the people that had made places for us. There was the great Georgian group of six that shared their long-established camaraderie, welcoming us to join them in team trivia where we laughed, moaned at missed answers and celebrated collaborative successes. Lane and Maria from Missouri offered kindness and faith-filled wisdom as we exchanged our life stories over US Thanksgiving turkey dinner. Pausing between Scrabble turns Nancy from Ontario told her story of strength, suffering and survival, giving me encouragement in words and by example. Guy and Marilyn from Florida had us playing Canasta and laughing at their stories. Of course, these are only a few of the new friends who made the past two weeks memorable.

I realized today that when I replay the memories of any vacation it is the experiences with people that matter. When, at the end of my life, I am distilling the accumulation of glossy, electronic or mental pictures, I fully expect to discard the sights and save the faces of friends. What would travel, or life, be without others with whom to share it? It would be as sad as a lonely sunset. To me, living is meant to be shared. I need not fly alone, cry alone or die alone as I am blessed with a sea of friendships, deep and wide, long and short.
But how can the circle constantly expand to accommodate new friends without squeezing out prior relationships? As I age I realize my Parkinson’s disease will diminish the energy I have to spread around. Must I prioritize people? Can I be intentional about friendship without avoiding new friends by being aloof and exclusive? Is it careless to cast one’s heart into the wind like a kite left to explore without controls? Should I conserve my energy and warmth for a few? Can I have too many friends?
In our fickle era, it seems that friendship is often broadly defined.  Is a "friend" found on Facebook, next door, at work or in the faded pages of a high school yearbook.  It seems that the word “friends” has now been given a modern but relatively meaningless context by a television series. It all leaves me bewildered, searching for something more meaningful. I prefer "friendship" to leave room for interactions that have potential for seriousness and celebration, fun and purpose. For me, there must be some mutuality among friends, although not necessarily in exacting terms, for like a kiss it cannot be maintained without some reciprocity. Communication may well be key, but not necessarily using words. Something must be shared, be it sports or science fiction, gardening or games, passion or pain. Acceptance of the person is needed, but also recognition of differences.
But for me, while friends may be given defining adjectives (“best”, “long-time”, “dear”, “school” or “new”), the category must be kept open. There is room for both planned and serendipitous human interactions, and they can each have significance without demeaning the other. Friendships are not a burden, but expectations are. True friendships at any level offer some degree of freedom, forgiveness and grace. Real friendships are not fickle, cheap or mercenary. They may be limited by time and circumstances, but both can be overcome.

Although there is sadness in goodbyes, I choose to believe they might not be permanent. Certainly, whatever the future brings, my new friends will remain brilliant colours in my life’s painting, sunlight that brightened these past 14 days.

Too many friends? I think not. Just too little time.


  1. Bob, again a provocative essay. I have a series I do out of Ephesians 4:17-32 about living your life as a sensitive or sensual person. You have to read the section from the NIV (not my favorite trans) to catch the terms as I use them. One of the observations that comes from the study is about friendships: When one has a few, genuine, "sensitive" friendships it sets you free to be "friendly" to all others that you meet. Thanks for causing me to think about this and the series from your words.