Thursday, November 02, 2006

Tomorrow I am off for a week-end with a group of women friends for whom that time away together has been an annual enterprise for probably fifteen years. We've rented a guesthouse in a lakeside resort community and will talk and eat and talk and walk and talk and stay up late and just generally celebrate who we are together.

With one exception. The only one of us who has moved away in all those years, thousands of miles away (divorce followed by new life), the one around whom this particular week-end was timed, announced two days ago that she would not be coming. The reasons are complex, the ostensible one being unexpected demands of family, the murkier ones having to do with those issues of obligation, guilt and freedom with which we all struggle. The result is some major hurt all around, and apparent oblivion to it on her part.

I've had some relationship highs and lows over the past few weeks, and this is certainly one of the lows. I'm beginning to wonder if we ever have much sense of how we affect one another. I've experienced a tremendous swell of support, encouragment, and generosity in the past several weeks as people have learned that I am applying to seminary, but I've also experienced a number of frustrations and disappointments in other areas of my life.

And ironies. Another friend and I were discussing some of our struggles on Iona this past summer, where we were immersed in a sort of "instant community," to which many of our church friends took like ducks to water and to which a couple of us responded with somewhat more reticence. "Ruined by boarding school, " I said. It has not escaped my understanding, in my adult life, that my expectations of community are somewhat unusual. Unrealistic, perhaps. I expect it to take much longer to unfold and create itself than others seem to, and I expect the results to be on a level of far more depth and intimacy than others seem even to know exists. It's hard for me to be satisfied with what's possible in only a week's time, or to identify the participants at the end as "good friends." I would be more likely to say "promising acquaintances." And I'm pretty sure that my response is a consequence of those six years in boarding school, when I moved through ages twelve through seventeen. Adolescent community is an intense enterprise under any conditions, and when it exists in close quarters 24/7, it's especially formidable. I find that as an adult, I often have to check my expectations of friendship and understanding at the door.

The most immediate irony is that only a couple of days after the aforesaid conversation, I found myself carelessly agreeing to make an hour-long presentation on the concept of community as a spiritual practice. I don't know whether to groan or to laugh. We are studying the spritual practices of the life of faith as our adult education program at church this year; we had just decided to talk about community in terms of the importance of opening ourselves to the "other" and to invite Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, and Hindu speakers; and we had decided that we needed an introductory session on the mutual concepts of hospitality and openness and, especially, community. "Sure, I'll do that," I said.

I can't believe I said that
, I grumbled an hour later. I am an idiot.

Well, this week-end will be grist for the mill.


Cynthia said...

Good luck with the presentation. I don't envy you. This entry alone has given me a lot to think about, and I'm glad I don't have to put it all into words that someone else could understand.

emmapeelDallas said...

I didn't go to boarding school, but I also have problems, bigtime, with "instant community", and the expectation of instant friendship. I told a promising acquaintance (I like that phrase!) this spring that I'm a person who likes to get into the water gradually, not take the plunge. I really like this post, and btw, "idiot" is not a word I'd ever associate with you.


Paul said...

I am suspicious of any community willing to accept me as a member. Have they no standards?

Kathryn said...

I only went to weeklong summer camp so I have a different experience. A week can form an instant but transient community feeling for me. Rarely do I stay in touch with anybody I've met under these circumstances so deep and intense would not describe these relationships.

I hope you have a fun weekend despite the sudden withdrawal of your friend. What a disappointment for all of you! I am jealous and wish I had such a group of friends with whom I could get away.

sunflowerkat119 said...

I think the meaning of friend is diluted by the fact that we quickly identify almost anyone with whom we are friendly as a friend. Your term of "promising acquantance" is a much more accurate description of these relationships. I feel I have only a handful of real friends as I need for the depth to exist for it to feel real.

I hope you and your old friends have a terrific weekend together.