Live Friends in a Virtual World

I have always been great at meeting people. I greet them, chat with them, get to know them and love them – easy as pie.

At least, it used to feel like that.

The older I become, the more difficult it seems to make meaningful connections. At almost 52 years of age, recently separated from my husband of 28 years, and living in yet another ‘new’ area, I find myself with no one to call when I need a ride home from the car repair shop. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I have at least twenty close friends in my phone list, but the majority of them live at best, two hours away and at worst, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Most of my family either live too far from me or are not available in this type of situation. I seriously never had to think about things like this before.

I wonder how much of the problem stems from aging, self-reliance, or the culture in general? I worry that the people my age already have their fill of relationships to maintain, and are left with no time or energy to add me to their list. But perhaps in the interest of independence, I have become so good at doing everything for myself that I have forgotten how to cultivate friends I can call on for help.

Maybe my friendship problem is simply the result of a culture that relies on hashtags and thirty-second video clips for connection, while I pine for the long-lost days of front porch news over iced tea, and the neighborhood kids playing mosquito-ridden games of kick-the-can.

It seemed to be easier to develop deep friendships in college or church, as a parent or military spouse. In those seasons I was surrounded by people like me (shared age, shared values, shared beliefs, or shared circumstances). But if connection is a function of like-mindedness or being in the right place at the right time, what if I never again find anyone else who thinks like me, lives like me, or is as old as me? What if I am no longer able to find the ‘right’ place at the ‘right’ time?

It stands to reason that I have felt this way before. I have lived in nine distinct locations over a 28-year period, for pity’s sake. If memory serves, each major relocation was a struggle when it came to relationships. Every. Damn. Time. This time just feels so much harder.

You would think that after years of practice I would have developed a formula for meeting the person destined to be my next incredible BFF. Sadly, if such a formula exists, I have yet to discover it. I am not even sure I know how it happens in the first place. But remembering the struggle, knowing I have been here before, and at the same time, looking back with amazement on all of the people I am privileged to call ‘friend’, I can well believe that she is working/eating/exercising/living somewhere in the nearby vicinity.

Will we cross paths before my car needs its next tune-up? Only time will tell.

 

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MY Happiest Place On Earth

Today I read a post challenge/contest here. Reading through Misty’s account of her trip to Disney made me smile. I cannot think of a worse fate than a week at Disney, or any other theme park like it, for that matter.

So the challenge was to blog about my happiest place. The first picture that popped into my mind was the beach. Oh, not just any beach – Bellows Beach holds my fondest memories:

I tried for a year to draw this view … I’m hopeless.

Situated on the Eastern side of Oahu, Bellows became a sort of haven for me when I just needed time alone. During our last summer there I made the commitment once-a-week to drive across on the H3 (always catching my breath at the sight of the bright, multi-colored shoreline at the tunnel’s end) in order to spend an hour or two soaking up the sun as refreshing salt-water waves crashed endlessly over my feet. We had the privilege of living in Hawaii for 2 1/2 years. I do believe you can still discern the faint scratches left by my fingernails on the airport tarmac while being dragged against my will toward the plane …

Okay, so that was my first thought. Then I recalled the yard off my side porch this morning. As I sat listening to birdsong and bumble bees buzzing around the magnolia blooms, it occurred to me that I was home. Peace surrounded me. No, there were no crystal-clear blue waves crashing over white sandy shores; no mountains rising up out of ocean spray, no sea turtles wandering across the beach for a glimpse of the clumsy 2-legged creatures gawking at them … just a sky of pink-tinged clouds scudding over blooming trees and the mournful sound of the morning doves.

Staring hard at 50 makes one think a little more deeply about what constitutes happiness. The bigger scheme of things comes into play when you age, I think. Happiness for me is no longer where I am on the outside, but has become more about where I am on the inside. Anthony de Mello reminded me recently that the ‘highs’ we call happiness are but the precursors to the lows we know as depression.

Maybe my happiest place is inside me where contentment lives. The simple things in life … family, a fresh-mown lawn, a friend sharing a glass of wine with me are what I have come to cherish. My happiest place is every place. At work or at play, I only need look within to find happiness.

What about you? What is your happiest place?

Stranded in Time

Time is a funny thing. At any given moment I may feel like it’s standing still, like I have “all the time in the world.” Other times I can almost see time zooming by like the landscape outside my car window running past at 80 mph on a 14-hour trip home. I can’t imagine a more apropos image of time than sand moving through the middle of an hour glass. Like sand moving under ocean waves … utterly impossible to hold on to. Immediately upon our awareness of a moment, it is gone.

Looking hard at turning 50 means a lot of time has passed in front of my eyes, be they wide open or slammed shut. 50 years = 438,300 hours, 26,298,000 minutes, 1,577,880,000 seconds. Of course, the immensity of the number of seconds, minutes, even the 400k+ hours just makes my eyes cross. I’m not even sure how that kind of time translates into a life of days, months, and years.

And while I don’t think I’ve gone through life with my eyes closed, inattentive to its lessons, with 50 just around the corner, I begin to wonder. Where has all that time gone? What, if anything, have I managed to produce? What have I learned and have the lessons changed the way I live – who I am? Or as the saying goes, ‘What do I have to show for all that time?’ What about the time I have left? What exactly am I supposed to be using that for? What about today? Was the activity packed into the last 24 hours worth anything? Wonder what ocean all that sand is buried under.

StrandedInTime

Most of my life has been defined by my relationships; and, in a very real way, time itself has defined me. In my younger days I would have balked at such a statement. The very idea that anyone’s ‘stage’ in life defined them would have offended my determination to define myself apart from any constrictions like time or place or even other people. Age has taught me differently. And while I would like to believe that I have allowed my faith to define me, even that has become as elusive as the outgoing tide.

Truth be told, it all started with family, brothers, sister, and parents, that morphed into peers, then friends, then almost-as-close-as-family college relationships. Marriage and kids opened a whole new realm from in-laws to the people I met because our kids played together.

As much as I hate to admit it, forces outside myself have always managed to define me, for good or ill, making my current situation bewildering at best, terrifying at worst. You see, for the first time in my life, I can say that I feel truly alone, cut off from others in any tangible defining way. The sense of being lost has never been so real to me as it has the past 3 years. Not ‘lost’ in a Christian sense as in losing faith – my faith in God has never been stronger. More like ‘lost’ in terms of my place in the world, my purpose for living. This feeling, wondering what I’m doing ‘here’ has left me with a kind of hopelessness born out of a loneliness for real connectedness in some ways almost too painful to describe.

Moving 25 times has not helped matters. Certainly in early years my ability to quickly establish deep friendships sustained me through times of loss as I left family and friends behind. But all the moving has also taken its toll on my ability to find and establish deep relationships in the first place. Bottom line? I’m tired. Wore slap out, as we used to say down South. How does one go deep, tear apart, and then do it all over and over again, at the same time managing the guilt associated with having to let go in order to move on? The pain sometimes feels like an accumulation of sand at the bottom of the hour glass, heavy and oppressive. Makes me want to shut down to avoid going through the process again. But loneliness is its own kind of oppression for an extrovert who has been defined by relationships all of her life.

I find that my ‘stage’ also has a lot to do with the difficulty I’m having establishing new friendships. My eldest (girls) are grown and gone from home and my teenage son has no interest in any kind of deep relationship with his not-really-very-cool mother. Moving at almost-50 into a small community has left me wondering if there is anyone around me who isn’t already over-burdened with their own years of accumulated relationships – too burdened to want to invest in a new one with me. At the same time hearing my spouse say, “We still aren’t settled,” implying yet another move, does not endear me to the idea of putting in any roots now, knowing the pain that comes with the uprooting.

Having to work full-time for the first time in 23 years has opened my eyes to the difficulty of establishing and maintaining meaningful relationships amidst the demands of work, commuting, and continuing household chores. There are literally days when I wish I could find a way to stop – everything – even time itself. Other days time feels like a prison cell, and I can almost see myself hemmed in to a little box running inexorably on a time-line which I can’t for the life of me escape.

Finally, having spent the first 40 years of my life steeped in religion, I never knew how very difficult it is to find meaningful relationships outside the 4 walls of the structure we call church. For me there is no going back to that arena. It took me a long time to see the machine-like quality, the distance-keeping business as usual of that structure, but now that I can see it, it’s all I can see. No amount of loneliness could drive me back into the dry bones of that dying institution.

So where does all this leave me? Looking hard at 50, thinking about the confines of time itself, sometimes grieving the loss of it, sometimes grinding my teeth at the speed of it. Recently, I’ve begun to see forward, linear time as the true curse we have been given over to. All of life’s ills from sickness to sadness to death itself spring from the well of forward linear time. I often imagine what life would be like if we could go back and relive an experience. I’m not the only one. Pictures, video recordings, movies about time travel, even the fast pace of our technological connectedness all testify to the human desire to overcome time’s limitations.

Strangely enough, that truth – that we are ‘stuck’ in forward, linear time – has given me hope. The very fact that I understand time to be the ultimate restriction to who we are as God’s image-bearers tells me I was made for a life without it. If thirst proves the existence of water, then our desire to control time proves that there is an existence beyond its limits.

I read a book of fiction this year that has impacted my life probably more profoundly than any other book save the Bible. Written by Jonathan Safran Foer, the book explores the idea that true redemption means everything running backwards, thereby putting all to rights. I cannot over stress the impact this idea has made in my mind. When one of the characters imagined the full extent of this possibility – beginning with the plane moving backwards out of the World Trade Center building, culminating in Eve “unpicking” the fruit from the tree – I couldn’t stop crying. I have come to believe that this is what true justice – true redemption – looks like.

Think about it. In forward linear time …

… a raped teen can never have her virginity back;
… a bereaved parent can never receive his child back;
… a harsh word can never be taken back, while the scars of our hurts remain indelibly etched on our hearts for all time. No amount of forgiveness or repentance can ever completely undo a wrong.

But what if redemption is the actual rolling back of time? What if we are going to see our pain, all the world’s suffering, in reverse – being UNdone? While it boggles the mind, I also know in my bones it must be true. When the prison doors that keep us locked in time are finally opened, the possibilities are endless! Why not this one? Why not the restoration of every broken relationship? Why not the healing of every loved one? Why not the complete redemption of the kosmos? Why not?

Revelation 21:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”
 
And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”