A Too Short Story

When we are young, friendships come easily. We collect them like seashells or fallen flowers—precious in the moment yet when the moment is gone, another comes to take it’s place. To love unconditionally and forgive quickly is something we often lose with our childhood; life makes us less trusting and more careful about who we let in. But life can surprise us.

When we moved to another country, another city, another culture, I became like a child again, surrounded by strangers who each carried the possibility of the gift of friendship. Friendships that hung in the balance of both wanting to give, and wanting to receive.

One night I met a woman at a party and we got to talking – about life, love, art. She gave me a seashell and I accepted it like the treasure it was.

She is a ceramicist and invited me to come visit her studio. The air inside was close with dust from the clay and heat from the kiln. She introduced me to all her children—some lay naked and waiting for her painters brush while others stood like soldiers in all their finery.

Her life partner was also an artist so she took me across the road to his workshop. The massive doors opened gently and easily despite their imposing facade, and inside lay a fantasy world. Surrounded by the smell of wood and steel, I made my way gingerly through the found objects that would one day become his works of art. The raw beauty of the space was like nothing I had ever seen, and even though I had yet to meet this man, his energy emanated from every nail, every stone, every tree.

In infinite jest
the sun rose again today
the wind stirred
the water rippled
the shadows danced.

In infinite jest
each breath came
in and out
in and out
as if it were just another day.

In infinite jest
the clouds moved across the sky
a living canvas
its semiotic indicator
a waning moon.

The sky
becomes the sea
the sea becomes
the sky
death becomes life

In infinite jest.

Thank you for your fallen flower George Samuelson.

The Great Unknown

A friend recently asked me, “What is it like to make new friends at this stage of your life?”.

We’re both over 50 and have stayed in touch despite my recent move to another country. I’ve lived a fairly sheltered life, never far from family and friends, I’m an introvert to her extrovert, and I now live in a country where English is not the first language. It was a good question.

In the 17 months since I drove to my new home in Merida, I’m finally feeling less like a stranger in a strange land and more like an explorer who, poco a poco, has found acceptance by the local tribes. “So how did this come to be?”, my friend wanted to know. She admitted to being a bit set in her own ways, secure with the known peaks and valleys of her longstanding friendships. And even though she confessed to a mild, midlife complacency, she couldn’t imagine leaving all those friendships behind to start over.

It was a tough question and I admitted to not thinking that part through.

Pool by JiHyeon Lee

From the Illustrated book ‘Pool’ by JiHyeon Lee

I thought my old friends would all come to visit, given my tropical locale. I thought Skype and Facetime would be just like the real thing. I thought new friends, like everything else, would fall into place. Ignorance was bliss for a time, until I realized that isolation and longing had become unwanted bedfellows. In leaping into the unknown, I’d lost my connection to people who really mattered. People who really ‘knew’ me and didn’t require a Coles Notes summary of my life. People who loved me despite the fact that there were points in time when they didn’t very much. I’d lost connection to these human touchstones and along the way, I’d lost connection to myself.

It’s true that friendships come and go but the ones that never leave, the ones that become a part of who you are—well those are the ones that cannot be replaced by an earnest attempt at extroversion. Those are the friendships that are deep and rich and just seem to get better with age. Those are the ones that sit at the edge of the bed when you feel like death and look even worse. Those are the ones I miss in my new life.

But, here’s the thing about friendship and the unknown.

It’s not called the ‘fair-to-middling’ unknown, or the ‘garden-variety’ unknown. It’s called the ‘great’ unknown—for a reason. The unknown is great because it challenges us to dig deep, to step out of our comfort zone, to discover talents and strengths in ourselves we never knew we had. It tests long-held perceptions and hands us new ones. The unknown is great because it shatters the belief that we can control our own life or the lives of others. And by relinquishing control, we have no choice but to live just a little more in the moment.

Pool by JiHyeon Lee

From the Illustrated book ‘Pool’ by JiHyeon Lee

So what does living more in the moment mean for me?

Small things really—things an extrovert would roll their eyes at. It means sitting at a table next to someone I don’t know instead of clinging to the person I do. It means asking a person I’ve just met at the dog park if we can meet sometime for coffee. It means saying ‘Yes’ to an impromptu road trip with someone I’ve known only 1/50 of my life. It means believing that love at first site is not exclusive to romantic relationships, and acting on it. Living in the moment means opening up a little more quickly and judging a little less harshly. It means taking chances and letting my heart be my guide, instead of my head. It means strapping on the goggles and jumping into the sea even though I’m more than a little afraid.

Some friendships take years to deepen and now that I’ve leapt into the unknown, I’ve found it’s also true that they can be birthed in an instant and flourish like a new born babe.

Pool by JiHyeon Lee

Pool by JiHyeon Lee

I couldn’t really answer my friends question, until I discovered this wonderful story called ‘Pool by JiHyeon Lee’. Wordlessly illustrated by Lee, it communicates everything I could never say about the beauty of the great unknown, and the sometimes unlikely and expected origin of friendship.

Footnote: I am lucky to have one of my sisters living in Merida too. She made the leap before I did, and her courage and tenacity inspired me to put my own dream in motion. She is beautiful and bright and sits at the edge of my bed when I look like death and feel even worse. She also lovingly kicked me out of the nest so I can go find my own friends, and for that I am eternally grateful.

Thanks again to Maria Popova and Brainpickings.