A friend recently told me she is moving away to pursue a new job, far across the country, a dream job offered after years spent working full time and going to school to achieve her nursing degree. She is excited and joyous, and she and her husband are looking forward to starting a new life on another coast. I am happy for her, but I am also sad. Although she resolves that we will stay in touch and continue to participate in each other’s lives, I know from decades of experience that geographic distance often creates as great a gulf as time does, separating the familiar and beloved into the cordial and remote. My friend – a singing colleague with a wonderful talent and caring nature – means every word she says, but I have an ominous sense of loss. I know it is selfish to wish her to stay nearby, but I wish it still.
Our 21st century lives are mobile. I myself have lived in 3 countries, 5 states and a number of different cities over the course of my life, pursuing different educational and work opportunities. This is not unusual, especially for Americans – we none of us much remain at our point of origin any longer, and the time when a village contained several generations of the same family, all working and living together over lifetimes, has mostly disappeared. We are restless and we move, and each time we do, one group of friends is left behind and another group is entered. In the olden days – olden – I wrote letters, many letters, to sustain and nourish these distant friendships, hoping that sharing my thoughts would somehow create a bridge and keep the affection fresh. It is easier now with the internet, even if less personal, but it takes two to preserve a pathway between hearts and minds. I have found over the years that I could not maintain these ties alone. So people have come and gone, the friendships not broken but slowly eroded, as we drift in our own worlds, succumbing to the demands of our immediate lives, on different islands far apart.
This recurring dissolution of relationships makes priceless a thriving long-term long-distance connection, a source of comfort and great pleasure over years and years. One of my dearest friends lives in the Philippines, half a world away, of a different culture, language and background than my own. We spent only one year living in the same place nearly forty years ago, studying, performing, laughing and growing together as young people. Over the ensuing decades I visited him in his country twice, and he visited me in mine once, a handful of days together over many years. Yet this friendship is vibrant and resonant; each time we speak or write or see each other, there is no gap in time or space. Our bond is saturated with the same affection, intellectual communion, respect and enjoyment of each other’s company now as it ever was. It is as vivid as yesterday and as rich as tomorrow, enduring, lovely and cherished.
But some friends do move on. Some get married, take jobs, fade away. One young friend recently flew off to another city to grad school; another is working in far away India, pursuing her destiny; several are less available now that they are parents of young children. I treasure them all and hope to stay in touch, but do so with the knowledge that the familiar amity we have shared may not return. My beloved partner reminds me that friendship always bears a risk, if you care deeply and give freely; in encouraging friends to live to their fullest, you may end up missing them. One has to find joy in that, and trust to the greater good that the echoes of friendship will sing long after friends have parted.
©Melody S. Owens, Poets Sinews, 2016. Reuse with permission.