Tag Archives: friendship

University of Life

Sometimes the best lessons from our university days are those we learn outside of the classroom.  –Julian Lynn

On one long weekend while I was attending university, I travelled several hours to visit a close girlfriend’s family. They lived several hours away.

My friend possessed many talents and gifts, yet social affability was not one of them. It was confusing for me to watch the uncomfortable social situations she created through her general suspicion and caginess around other people. From my limited perspective, it was as though she had never really learned how to occupy the space Grace had granted her, choosing instead to alternate between insecurity and a rather intense, blustery indignity which rarely allowed her to shine or even simply relax and be herself in community.

Spirituality

As with almost all of the extended weekend visits I took during my college days, Friday night’s meet-and-greet with the family was more formal in nature than the rest of the weekend.  There was nothing during that initial phase of being introduced to my friend’s family that could explain her social awkwardness.

Then, as the sun rolled over onto Saturday morning, I lay in bed considering what I needed to get done in terms of homework that day. The guest room happened to be on the first floor of the home, and it was stationed adjacent to the kitchen. My door was ajar.

As I lay there in bed, contemplating plans for the day, I was amazed to overhear what I assumed to be old family verbal patterns reemerging. The conversation was nothing like those which had been in evidence the previous night.

As my girlfriend attempted to help her mother prepare breakfast in the kitchen, my friend was showered with an ongoing barrage of complaints about the nature of the kitchen’s layout, the inefficient manner in which my friend was attempting to help, how my friend’s contributions were somehow subpar. And, perhaps, most telling was the general prickly refrain, “You are always in the way.”

In defence of my friend’s right to exist, I remember muttering under my breath, “Why did you bother to have children, if you don’t even like them?” Then, becoming more philosphical about the situation, I asked myself the larger question: Why do people have children if they are only going to berate them verbally, withdraw their emotional support, as well as decry their very existence?

In some families, audio tracks are actually handed down generation to generation like a series of precious heirlooms when, in reality, it would have been better for everyone if these soundtracks had simply been erased. From my clients and students, I have learned that the lengthy process of erasure or overdubbing of these tracks can be a struggle. Not everything a parent “gifts” us is meant to be cherished or held onto. Not everything an adult or parent says is meant to go into a child’s psyche. So, if you are a parent, or an adult around children, choose your words carefully. You are on the air. This session is live. What you say is being recorded. The soundtrack you are laying down will be replayed. Words matter.

The Economics of Friendship II

Spirituality

“We have to go now,” our host, Professor Alexander, calls up the broad, Victorian staircase of his home. I am hastily collecting the last of our belongings from the guestroom to finish packing our car.

The Alexanders, myself, my husband and infant child are all leaving to meet the Alexanders’ adult son and daughter-in-law for a quick breakfast. The Alexanders’ son and his wife are new hires at a local secondary school, after having spent eight years studying and working toward their undergraduate degrees. They need to be to work on time.

With the car fully repacked from our overnight stay, we pull out of our hosts’ driveway to follow their vehicle to the pancake house two miles from their home. We are planning to depart New York state from the restaurant to spend another eight-hour day driving cross-country.

Upon entering the restaurant, apologies are made for our tardiness at the same time that hasty introductions go around.  A small amount of light banter starts the conversational ball moving about the large table. From this, we learn that the Alexanders’ son and daughter-in-law have recently returned from a three-day weekend in Montreal, having travelled to Canada to spend time with three other couples—old college friends from their early undergraduate-school days. Most of the members from among the other couples went on to complete some type of professional schooling, becoming doctors or lawyers.

Before the conversation can continue, Professor Alexander breaks in abruptly, “You can’t keep spending money like this. You are on a very different budget than these people. Three days in a hotel, a professional sporting event and how many dinners out? You can’t afford these weekends with your old friends. May I remind you that you are public-school teachers with a significant amount of student-loan debt to repay?”

The table grows momentarily quiet, then Mrs. Alexander picks up the conversational ball with a more conventional breakfast topic. I retreat into the realm of my own thoughts to consider Professor Alexander’s paternal plea for fiscal prudence. It is one of those instances where an entire group of relevant questions surfaces at once.  I understand Professor Alexander’s genuine economic concerns for his son and daughter-in-law.

Professor Alexander is right, where budgeting is concerned. Yet, his impassioned plea for fiscal prudence has ripped a hole in my heart.

What happened to enjoying each other’s company over a shared, potluck dinner at a person’s home? Must we relinquish cherished friendships when we can no longer afford the same recreational adventures?

Hanging back from the general conversation, I recall my grandmother’s stories about how she and my grandfather made things work while going through the Depression as a young couple–by taking turns with other young couples on the issue of hosting dinners and taking turns with covering fuel or travel expenses.  What these stories from my grandmother taught me is that where the heart is concerned, there are always solutions.

The Economics of Friendship

Driving across the state of New York, we have a full day on the road ahead of us. Fortunately, one of my husband’s summer-school classmates, an established professor in the state’s university system, and his wife have invited us to overnight at their home on the western edge of the state.

In order to coordinate our time of arrival, a few phone calls pass between us. In addition to establishing arrival time, inquiries are made about my possible dietary restrictions, as I am breastfeeding.  Our hostess asks me whether or not I am eating onions and garlic, a respectful consideration about which I have never even thought.

Spirituality

After a full-day’s drive and with a summer of intensive, academic study behind us, we pull into our hosts’ driveway physically hot, sticky and thoroughly exhausted. The Alexanders’ home is a towering two-and-one-half-story Victorian which has been fully restored.  An extensive, rowed stand of freshly trimmed arbor vitae salute us like a brigade of crisply uniformed sentinels clad in dark green, guarding the borderline of the property.

Exhaling, we open our car doors slowly unbending to begin the process of selective unpacking. We are here for one night.

Soon the Alexanders are at our sides to help us carry our things inside. As we enter their home, we set our things down for a tour of their restored and carefully maintained property. The charcoal grill on the back patio has already been fired up for the outdoor dinner they have planned. Ushering us through the house, we are shown through the large kitchen, formal dining room, den, expansive living room, two full baths, one half bath and four bedrooms. The attic alone remains a mystery. The bedroom, where we are staying, has three tall stacks of extra-large, plush towels carefully laid out on its bedspread.

After settling in and freshening up, the three of us descend the broad staircase to meet our hosts on the patio for a generous, outdoor meal.  Stories about travels, extraordinary people and life adventures are exchanged. My husband and I attempt to express our gratitude for the incredible degree of hospitality being shown to us, to which the Alexanders graciously reply, “You will be able to do this for someone else someday.”

Over dessert and tea in the formal dining room, we are informed that a breakfast date has been set for seven o’clock the next morning. We will be meeting the Alexanders’ son and daughter-in-law, both newly employed public-school teachers, at a pancake house for breakfast. With this last bit of news, we are excused for the evening and climb the stairs to bed.

Spirituality: How Do We See? II

When I entered university, I became friends with a group of Asian women, who had banded together to form a closely-knit and welcoming circle of friends.  From among this group, one Japanese woman, a future teacher of English as a second language, became my closest friend.

In terms of age, my Japanese friend was about three years my senior.  In our relationship, I helped her navigate the dicey waters of English idioms and grammar.  She invited me to help her with the selection of her very first pair of eyeglasses, which was no small feat because her facial structure (lack of a significant bridge to her nose) made it difficult for her to find appropriate frames–States’ side.  I  also acted as an ad hoc “cultural consultant.”

Spirituality

For her part, my friend was always gracious, patient and generous with me which, given the age difference at the time, was a significant kindness.  She invited me to dinners with her local host family, who were Italian-Americans, capable of putting on a formal, five-course-meal extravaganza worthy of rave reviews, with specialty items “imported” from Chicago. She granted me large, caligraphied characters of inspiration and almost scraped the tip of her nose on the floor several times the first time she met my mother.  (My mother quietly protested, “But, I am not that old.”)

Our bond grew deep enough that communications often seemed to transcend culture.  Then, one day, my Japanese friend was trying to describe a situation involving a female student who was unfamiliar to me.  I was not following the account very well and, in an effort to understand who the other woman was, I broke into her narrative to ask about the appearance of the other female student, so that I could attempt to place the stranger visually.

That is when my friend blurted out in frustration, “How am I supposed to describe her.  You all look the same.”

I bent over with laughter, asking, “How can you say that?  Although most of us are of European descent, we have different colored hair and eyes.”

Then, some form of internal clarity came to me.  If my Japanese friend comes from a culture where virtually everyone shares similar hair and eye color, then, the Japanese people must cue off of different facial features to describe one another verbally. This would impact how a Japanese person sees other people.

I tried to consider the students I was watching from my friend’s perspective.  And, I realized that “we”–the European American students surrounding us–do all look alike because we have fairly uniform, pronounced noses, long narrow faces and light complexions.  Thus, I had just exposed my own cultural bias by naming hair and eye color as the most distinguishing facial features.

In the end, I had to ask, “How do we see?”