I have only one quote on my desk. It is scribbled on a yellow post-it note of which the adhesive residue has long since worn away. Periodically I will go through a desk cleaning phase when I am being crushed by a writing block. Everything is swept away and my desk returns to a pristine state. My wife will come in and nod and smile. But that post-it note remains. These are the words:
Happiness always looks small when you hold it in your hand, but let it go and you understand at once how big and precious it is.
That quote is a reminder not to take for granted anything that I want to keep.
Yesterday I had a phone conversation with an old work colleague that I hadn’t spoken to in almost fifteen years. It was a nice catch-up but it got me thinking. He moved to another city almost a year ago and in that time he hasn’t really made any friends. I moved to Melbourne over two years ago and while I now know quite a number of people it would be difficult for me to characterize any of them as friends. Perhaps if I hadn’t worked as a riverguide for so long it would be possible.
Friendship is based on shared moments, associations, and experiences. All of these were present with the guys that I rafted with. My old rafting buddies run the entire political gambit, from hard core socialists to fuming right-wingers. But our personal beliefs do not enter into it, they are merely periphery to our valued common experiences.
But people that I meet now rarely measure up to that standard. It is difficult to find a friend when you are in the market for one. And truth be told most people who have lived in the one place their entire lives have a full roster of friends. They’re just not advertizing. And even if they were, how can you now forge a friendship? Go to a bar and drink on Friday afternoons? If that’s the case I sure hope you know a lot about football.
The answer I think is to put yourself out there through your own personal interests. It is hard, but things that are worthwhile sometimes are. Still, it is galling to have to work so hard at acquiring friends when it came so easily over the course of a rafting season. I also think that the later in life you are the more difficult it is. In your twenties you can pick up friends like a dog acquires fleas. Your standards are a bit lower.
The Lord of the Rings trilogy is about friendship. Merry, Pippin and Sam return to the Shire after their great adventures. Sam opens the door to his home, greets his wife, and she places their child on his lap. The final line of the trilogy reads,
“He drew a deep breath. ‘Well, I’m back,’ he said.”
It was Tolkien’s tribute to the men of The Great War, of that I am certain. To go through all of that and then come home and just get on with it as if nothing had transpired. There was no other recourse as those who had stayed at home could not have possibly related to their experiences on the battlefield.
I love my life. But as I am writing this second book about a rafting season in Italy, it is almost as if I’m reliving those times and friendships. The comradery spirit on the river and at the end of the day cooking the communal meal. The esprit di corp that builds among a group of guys when you are all in it together. They were good times.