Who was your first friend crush?
Do you remember? Chances are you do. Mine was Chris Helmer, who lived a quarter mile down Flocktown Road, a meandering dirt road that connected larger streets. Our world sat between us, farm land and acres of forest our playground. I still remember the acorn war, which pitted Chris and me against all the neighborhood kids. At one point we somehow had them pinned down in a big green truck in the woods until mom called for lunch. “Mom, do we have to?” “Yes!!” Victory so close at hand! Our souls were knit like Jonathon and David, our pursuit was war, and our love the dreams of triumph.
A couple years ago, after forty years of no contact, I stopped by his house, and wouldn’t you know, his mom answered the door. Yes, she remembered me. Yes, Chris still talked about me, and our escapades. When I got back in the car I thought for a moment about what made our friendship so enduring. It was solitude together, time with one another without agenda, demands or expectations. One afternoon we spent hours watching a spider stab, and then spin a web around a butterfly. That shared moment came back to me in vivid detail, right down to its vibrant colors disappearing under a cocoon of silk. Shared Solitude, it’s something to treasure.
It’s also the stuff that forms friendship. The older I get the more I appreciate those special people who share my passions, know me and yet seem to overlook the warts and weird idiosyncrasies I try to hide, but invariably can’t seem to push over on anybody. True friends take the trash out at your place, they argue for their points without fear of disillusion, and they hold you up when your world becomes small and heavy under a swell of pain.
Solitude and friendship stand back to back and fight against the tidal wave of cultural norms, chiefly but not solely among them collectivism, which threatens individual humanness. More simply put, the crowd seeks consensus, while friendship seeks oneness, a vast universe of difference. Friendship fights for moments of solitude. Because it’s in those shimmering life-breathing moments of oneness that our human need for understanding finally breathes a sigh of relief.
My neighbor, Maurice wants to be down in South Carolina, not Brooklyn. We’ve gotten to know one another these past six months. He sits on his stoop killing time, perhaps waiting for something, anything to change. He’s too old to be left alone, so “they” say. I stop and talk with him on occasion. He worked in the same plant in Myrtle Beach for 35 years, got a watch to prove it. Now he’s wondering what to do. He’s broken, shuffles his feet at half a mile an hour stooped over so low he defies gravity. I often see him when I’m at the bus stop. “What’s up, Maurice? I’m bent over trying to get at his eye level. “Picking me up some fire water,” he says in his distinct gravelly voice, still shuffling.
Yesterday when I came home I greeted him, and he began to explain how he nearly got hit by a car, fell down and got banged up. I noticed his face and head were roughed up something nasty. Then he began to cry, big alligator tears rolling down his cheeks. “Oh, Maurice….” So I ran inside and got a piece of pumpkin bread, returned and sat down next to him. “This is what I eat when I’m sad,” I said. “This is good,” he said mouth full brushing crumbs off himself. Then I listened while it all poured out. The nice thing about our friendship is that we don’t expect or demand anything from each other. We just sit on the stoop. The shared solitude is forming a friendship, like a spider spinning it’s silken thread.
I moved away from Flocktown road when I was 9, just before the start of my second, third grade. That year was the crowning achievement of two rascals named Chris “Hell” -mer and Kevin Young. My report card held exactly 9 “F’s” for every subject attempted that year. It was the only thing sitting in my permanent record handed to me at my high school graduation. Chris and I had schemed one too many times to get past the teacher’s demands. In a word, the shared solitude was sinking us. But that’s the power of friendship. For better or worse, friendships bring us to places we wouldn’t dare go ourselves.
Come to think of it, that goes for our friendship with God, too.