“There is a story of a woman running away from tigers. She runs and runs and the tigers are getting closer and closer. When she comes to the edge of a cliff, she sees some vines there so she climbs down and holds on to the vines. Looking down, she sees there are tigers below her as well. She then notices a mouse gnawing away at the vine to which she is clinging. She also sees a beautiful bunch of strawberries close to her, growing out of a clump of grass. She looks up and she looks down. She looks at the mouse. Then she just takes a strawberry, puts it in her mouth, and enjoys it thoroughly. Tigers above, tigers below. This is actually the predicament that we are always in, in terms of our birth and death. Each moment is just what it is. It might be the only moment of our life; it might be the only strawberry we’ll ever eat. We could get depressed about it, or we could finally appreciate it and delight in the preciousness of every single moment of our life.” – Pema Chödrön
So…my present moment is enveloped by a Big Case of Feeling Friendless. I say feeling because I know I’m not actually friendless. I had an in-town BFF text me last night to tell me she’d been missing me. But my dance card is mostly empty. The heavy hitters, the MVPs, the VIPs are almost all gone from my roster, having left town…or just having left the relationship. And over the last few years, the relational losses have continued accumulating in rapid-fire succession before I’ve had a chance to fully process the previous ones. As heartbreaking as it’s been (and it really has), please don’t hear these statements as whiny. It just IS. It’s my present reality. I write about it here because I figure there might be another who 1) is in a similar place and needs to know they’re not alone or 2) has been here in the past and has wisdom to share about the blessings it can bring.
During the past three years, my growing friendship deficit has included two besties moving hundreds of miles away…two long-standing, meaningful relationships dissipating (one verbally terminated by the other party with no definitive reason as to why, and one fizzled out due to general life busyness and lifestyle differences)…another close friendship going on indefinite hiatus, initiated by me…and a small community of folks our entire family felt a connection with falling apart over the summer due to various circumstances. It’s not that there aren’t people of a friendly caliber in my corner of the world – there are plenty, and a few seem interested in pursuing deeper relationship. But after several years of high turnover in the friend department, I’m exhausted at the thought of having to start over from the beginning…again. Most of the folks I have history and/or intimacy with live hours away, are busy with paying jobs, and/or have children to raise. It’s all contributed to a sizeable, relational void.
So I’ve been praying. And listening. And reading. And via all the prayers/meditations/books, it seems the wisest teachers are advising: make peace with your circumstances as they are. It’s okay to want friendship, to want community. Of course it is. It’s in our DNA. But the mostly empty dance card? Stop expending precious energy fighting against it…and accept it as it is. The idea that this is the way it is frustrates me at times (in regards to a lot more than friendship), and my knee-jerk reaction is to either blame myself for the predicament I’m in (you’re not strong enough or clever enough to find a way out of this) or to blame others (if s/he would just CLUE IN and stop behaving that way and do this or that BETTER, my outer circumstances would be rectified thus resolving my inner strife). Maybe things would have shaken out more pleasantly if some of the folks in question or I had behaved differently. But they didn’t. And neither did I.
So here I am, dangling isolated from a cliffside. Tigers above and below. Mouse nibbling on the vine. I know I’ve got people in my corner but the crowd has diminished substantially. I could get depressed about it (and I have) but I would much prefer to delight in the preciousness of it. So what’s my patch of strawberries?
- More time to enjoy my kids. I don’t mean more time to spend with my kids. As a stay-at-home homeschooling parent, I do plenty of that already. I mean more time to ENJOY my kids. Not just being in the same room together, not just surviving diapers and tantrums and low blood sugar…but learning and adventuring together. Ten years into this parenting gig, and it’s finally starting to feel plausible. The other day I told the husband I wanted to secure an RV and travel the USA and Canada, all five of us. Don’t think I’ve quite sold him on that yet.
- More time to clear excess from my house, mind and body. Not that the clutter will ever be entirely gone. But with less relationships to maintain, more space is available to deal with the glut weighing me down (the build-up of papers, toxins, emotions and such that happens when one is pleasantly distracted with other people). Or as my yoga instructor advised yesterday afternoon: clean out the junk drawers.
- More time to pursue spirit-filling, creative endeavors: writing, reading, photography, painting, sitting outside watching the sunset, taking a walk under a blue sky, sitting by the fire when it’s wintry outside, trying to embarrass my 10yo, etc.
- More time to ponder why friendship, community, and all the good things that grow from friendship and community (affirmation especially) are important to me. At what point does my healthy, innate need for community morph into an unhealthy addiction to people and their approval? And there’s more space to contemplate which qualities I truly desire in a friend: loyalty, trust, taking initiative, mad-phat active-listening skills, cheeky sense of humor, willingness to discuss all things spiritual, occasional delivery of fancy chocolate.
- More time to listen to The Spirit. Outside of genuine community – the kind Jesus encouraged – I most often connect with God/Love while a) being still or b) in direct contact with creation (outside with toes in grass and wind in hair). But again, when I fill up my time with people (or the chasing of people), there isn’t much left for relating to God/Love. As one of those aforementioned VIPs once jotted to me: “…the only real, lasting happiness is some sort of deep connection with God, and that can only be found with lots of space and inner quietness.”
That’s quite a delicious-looking tangle of berries if I do say so myself. Here’s to savoring the scrumptiousness while dangling in a precarious cliff-hanging predicament. Could be a challenge. But I think it’s doable. Off to nosh.