for Taylor and Brighid
I stood in the Security line at the airport behind a Buddhist monk from Thailand, and watched helplessly as the agents roughed him up, opening his bags and tossing the contents onto the floor. They were probably following orders to harass people who looked “foreign.” I helped him gather up his things and move them out of the way of passengers following close behind, saying over and over to him, “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry…” When I handed him his sneakers, both of us were close to tears. He put his palms together and bowed, whispering,
I stayed with him until he was again in his ochre robes, the yellow rope tied around his middle, his bags well closed and we had shared several bows. Gassho was whispered with each bow, and I kept repeating, “I’m so sorry,” and then he spoke in perfectly good English with the hint of a grin,
“It’s alright – this how I make a friend!” We both laughed, and then had one last bow before he hurried off to make his plane and I hurried off to make mine.
I have been thinking about friendship ever since, and how much we need good friends by our sides when the times get tough, which they are doing right now. Facing the world alone when we’re frightened is too sad to contemplate. I realized this so poignantly after my husband, who was also my best friend and companion, died. I missed him achingly: the presence of him, the daily support of him, the very maleness of his body. I found myself talking to him for company, telling the walls things I told nobody else. To anybody passing by, I would have been a crazy lady.
About five months after his death I found myself at a gathering I really didn’t want to go to and a young man approached me and said simply, “I want to know you.” His candor was so refreshing, like a shock of warm water that I responded by asking him, “Why?”
“I’m not sure,” he replied with the blunt innocence I have come to love and count on in him, “but I have a feeling that you know something I need to learn.” I probably smiled and asked, “What is that?” He shrugged and then changed the subject.
As I am much older than he, I assumed he did this kind of thing for a lark, and we eventually drifted to other people in the crowd. But I was wrong; he meant it, and now almost four years later we are bonded by a committed friendship so real and honest it has helped me through my long period of grief.
He may never know how much.
The fact is that we are fascinated by many of the same things, which he apparently intuited that night, and now we talk about them all, from the nature of reality to the effects of music and sound on the soul. We explore questions of intimacy and mutual commitment, marriage and non-sexual expressions of love. His remarkable (and remarkably patient) wife joins us from time to time, apparently bemused by her open-hearted husband’s friendship with this older woman who seems to share his penchant for digging into the roots of human relationships. I’d love to know her and their young adult children as well as I know him, though I wouldn’t be surprised if, behind our backs, she rolls her eyes at our antics.
Who we are to one another is an ongoing question, and we seek out answers by wandering the North Coast seacliffs and talking non-stop, and trekking in the woods to waterfalls where we contemplate falling water that is ever changing and ever the same. Yesterday we took a picnic right to the edge of the surf and plopped down, not knowing if the tide was going in or out, while pelicans appeared by the dozens to fly over us as if in celebration of our daring.
We have cried together over the horrors in our world, and have flown kites in the wind until we were weak with laughter. We contemplate the possible and the impossible, and then prepare to do both.
I am fortunate that we met at this gathering he almost did not come to and I was not in the mood for, because grieving alone makes us crazy and is more painful than we know. I believe that is why widows traditionally wear black – to signal to others to give them space to be a little nuts without censure.
And I suspect we are all, consciously or unconsciously, deeply grieving now. Or should be.
Please, be careful.
We are all in this time of fear and trembling together and we need to have our friends to cherish and be cherished by. We need to love and to be loved, to not be alone when the sweeping storms of the world threaten to engulf us, because the storms are already howling and more are coming. We need to find and create community with at least one other person who knows us, accepts us and trusts us no matter what. Under duress, we have to be there for one another because survival in community may be the only way we can make it through these times. Nobody ever said it would be easy, but there you are: together, or not at all.
As Taylor said to me that first evening, “I want to know you.”
And as the Thai monk said after being deeply insulted by the airport Security agents, “It is alright – this is how I make a friend.”