I took a hike this morning with a friend.
I don't know her very well yet. In fact, it was the first time we'd hung out together by ourselves so there was a kind of first-date awkwardness that can't really be avoided. But we have a lot of mutual friends, and I've known her for about a year already in the context of larger social things. So going on a hike was sort of only a quasi-risk for both of us I guess, considering that being alone together on a trail 45 minutes from any exit strategy could be potentially disastrous. I knew, though, that we both loved the same people and at the very least, we would enjoy being outside, and at the very worst we could smile thinly to each other from the safety of a wine glass and several friends at a later date.
Also, I knew that she doesn't avoid deep topics, and in fact, pursues them with intensity. So I figured that no matter what we talked about, it would get real and dirty very quickly. And I love that. Every year, I crave more real authenticity in conversation. Maybe it's because I just don't have time in my life to talk about nothing. I mean, if we have a half hour to spend, let's get as real as possible. No gossip, no ruminating over inconsequential details of something. Because, for pete's sake, I've got a list a mile long of stuff that needs to get done. So if we're together, it had better be good. And by good, I mean I want to talk about LIFE.
I remember sitting on the phone for hours with my best friend in junior high:
"So...I think I would rather kiss Josh, if given the choice. Or maybe Jonah....(silence) Okay, hold on a sec. I'm going to grab something to eat."
"Yup, I'll be here (snaps gum)"
(4 minutes of silence. I lie on my back looking at the ceiling. I think about social studies homework. I think about getting a new pair of shoes.)
"you still there?"
"mmm hmmm. totally. Anyway, did you listen to the top 40 countdown on Sunday?"
I try to measure the worth of these meaningless conversations against the entire spread of life. There was a time for that. It was blissful and uninhibited. It was around the same age that we took off to ride our bikes around Dunn School and subsequently ended up at the pool and oh well, I guess we should probably just stop for a swim now. And - bam - 6 hours passed just like that. Lots of daydreaming got done, and lots of dream-building.
Maybe there will be a time again for sitting and saying absolutely nothing to a friend, just sitting and watching the sun creep across the ceiling, or for getting on a plane and going to Italy for an art class with her, because why not. In fact, I'm almost sure there will be that day. But that day is not today.
Today, I'm lucky if I get a once-a-week good conversation with ANY friend, on any level because that's the way the schedule works. In fact, I will admit that a month ago I tearfully begged my friend Tracey to please please please come out with me so I didn't absolutely go insane for lack of womanly contact. There are just weeks like that when the ship is moving and I can't get off of it to take a breath.
So this new friend and I trudged up a steep hillside under a canopy of rustling sycamore leaves, completely alone in the canyon. It was a beautiful autumn morning with a breeze blowing up from the sea. We talked about our dads, our kids, our husbands, our community, our failures, our hopes. And with every step and every turn in the conversation, I felt my cup getting more and more filled. It didn't matter that we were still on the awkward edge of not really knowing each other well. All that mattered was that we brought ourselves to the table and allowed ourselves to be known. I'm not even entirely sure she *likes* me all that much. But there we were, being transparent. And I knew that any investment in a friendship with someone who was willing to be brave and honest would be a good thing, especially in the middle of crazy lives where we run until night and then fall back wondering if everything we did even mattered at all.
At the end of the day, our friends are the ones who reflect back to us and shine on us the light we can't see for ourselves. They remind us that we aren't alone in the middle of this deep sea and that, yes, we are known and yes, the terrible thing which happened before will eventually be okay; we will survive it. Or that we need to get the hell out of that bad situation as quickly as we can. Those beautiful friends in our lives can speak our truths to us sometimes better than we speak them to ourselves.
And the more I think about it, the more I realize it's not just because I'm busy that I desire meaningful, deep conversation. It's because life is made up of relationships and that growth comes, in large part, through walking the journey together. It's because when everything falls apart, those friends will be the ones that remind me of who I am and who I should be and what I need to be striving toward.
I can see my new-ish friend has these qualities and that she chooses her people well and wisely. I think about the blessing that good friends are and I pray that I'll be that kind of friend too.