Thursday, January 21, 2016

Let's Be Submarines

We went out on a Monday night– because it was a bank holiday and three out of four of the husbands had the day off, so we left the children with them (seven children among the four of us). We curled our hair and put on necklaces and high heels and wore outfits that didn't have to be breastfeeding-friendly and we got in one car and drove to a Lebanese restaurant an hour away. We ordered a bottle of wine and we munched on Damascus bread and baba ghanoush and we told stories and shared secrets and reveled in the evening out and in each other's company. We sipped the wine, but the headier vintage that night was the wine of friendship, our delight in being together, the four of us, and the love and sisterhood we have with one another. When the night ended, and our husbands had sent us texts wondering when we would be home, we embraced each other with kisses and hugs and laughter,  but behind the laughter was a catch in the throat, because two of us are moving far away.

I am going back to my old friends, my old community, and my feelings are bittersweet. Because what about the friends and community I leave behind?

I am but a reluctant military wife, and those who know me best know all that I struggle with this topsy-turvy lifestyle. But there is one facet of military life that sparkles, a diamond in the (in-all-senses-of-the-word) rough, and that is the friendships that I have had– and in some cases still have– with so many women whom I would never otherwise have met.

When I married my husband and moved away from the only home I'd ever known, the friends and community that had been all I'd ever had, I thought that I was leaving the only true and deep and real friendships I would ever have. Oh of course, I would make new friends, but new friendships couldn't possibly be as deep or as meaningful as the old ones. It was as if I thought that the friendships in my life were a zero-sum game, that making a new good friend might somehow lessen the value of the old good friend. Fortunately I was dead, dead wrong. For friendships are like spices and herbs, adding the zest and flavor to life, and while cumin and cinnamon and coriander and garlic and cilantro all have each their own distinctive, pleasing flavors, and can be taken alone, it is in combinations that you really have the full experience of each. Just because cinnamon and cloves are delightful in some dishes does not mean I will dislike chili powder and cumin in something else. My love for my closest friends back in Colorado will not lessen by meeting and growing to love new friends elsewhere– for the lovely thing about love is that the more people one grows to love, the more one's ability to love grows.

Friendship leaves a stain: each relationship with each friend has marked both people in a permanent way. I do not mean to say that every friendship I have had in the past four years has continued after I or the other person has moved away (inevitable in this military life)– for there are seasons and cycles to life, and some relationships are just for a season. That is part of our limitations as human beings who do not have an infinite amount of time. What I mean is that we humans are such a glorious and complex mess of emotions, motivations, thoughts, beliefs, assumptions–  and contrary to what we might think about our individualism, we are so fragile that when our lives bump up against each other we cannot help but change shape in some slight, subtle way– and the harder the bump, the more significant the effect. For all these women I have met in the past four years, whether I see them again or not, whether we keep in touch with each other for the rest of our lives or not at all, I know that I am a different person because of our friendship, however short or long it might be.

And then there are the Kindred Spirits. These are the friendships that are not just bumps– they are more like head-on collisions. It's possible to be friends with just about anyone, but a Kindred Spirit is a pure gift– you can't force someone into the roll, or even really look for one. It simply happens– one moment you're talking with someone in an ordinary, small-talk kind of way, and then you begin to realize that here is someone who really Understands. And you find you would enjoy talking to that person for hours, not necessarily because you agree with her (or him) about everything, but because (as C.S. Lewis says) you both agree that certain things matter, that certain questions are important, even if you disagree about the answers.

In my life, the sweetest friendships are always those that are the most real– in which we say, subconsciously, to each other: If friendship is an ocean, then let's be submarines. Let's dive down deep– you can see what lives in the depths of me, and I'll explore the depths of you too, and we'll learn each other's unexpected beauties and have grace for the secret ugliness and weakness that we hide from the rest of the world. Let's go deep.

I've had that with the three friends I'm leaving behind, the three friends with whom I sat in a Lebanese restaurant and drank wine and laughed. We've gone deep. We have laughed and cried and vented. We've shown our secret ugliness and affirmed each other's inner strengths. We've prayed and we've cussed and we've held each other through brokenness. We have been real.

And here's the remarkable thing– we've done all that in a remarkably short time. We haven't known each other all our lives. One of them only moved here a year ago. We haven't been meeting together regularly for more than a few months. But it doesn't matter. Deep friendship doesn't have to take years and years to build. (Sometimes it does, but it doesn't always have to.) With vulnerability and grace and courage and intentionality, it can happen quickly. As a military wife, I don't have years and years to build new friendships. Each time we move,  I can't lose the limited time we have with women who think that small talk for the first year and a half of acquaintance (the emotional equivalent to holding each other at arm's length) is the first step of friendship. I look for the women who are eager to do life, to be real, to drop the masks (because who are we fooling anyway? Who really has it all together?) and to dive in.

Life is short. We have nothing to lose but our pride and lame attempts to be self-sufficient, and what a wonderful freeing thing to have those be lost! We must just dive in, and dive deep.

Photo credit: Curly Girl Design