March thoughts: friendships and farewells

Well … this week has been an emotional roller coaster one for me. I hosted an Easter egg hunt the day following Resurrection Sunday. It should have been an eggs-ighting affair. But then. My friend’s special needs son tore up the roses that I’d gathered from the garden earlier that day. They  had smelled fabulous. Seeing them as garnishing for the grass, I was almost in tears. But. Roses are a poor excuse for turning on the taps. So I didn’t cry. I think we all had a wonderful time, though. After-dinner conversations after BBQs in the desert are always a delight.

Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest human beings infinite distances continue, a wonderful living side by side can grow, if they succeed in loving the distance between them which makes it possible for each to see the other whole against the sky.
Rainer Maria Rilke

Meanwhile … there are times when my mind gets muddled up and I can’t think clearly to write. Right now is one of them. Because. A dear friend has just given notice that she and her husband will be leaving in one month’s time.

I don’t think anyone ever gets used to farewells. Saying goodbye is a fact of life yet still, when they happen, life gets depressing in a way that no length of notice ever prepares you for.

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Breakfast with my friend who is leaving and two other friends, Spring 2015

If ever there’s a constant to expat life, especially in the UAE where the local population hovers at only 22%,  it is saying good-bye. I don’t know about others but doing it often enough just. does not. get me inured against missing someone’s presence. And. I know. That I will miss my friend terribly. Because ….

This time last year I was steeling myself to live the coming days in the absence of a friend whose baked goodies arrived whenever I had a cry in the loo. How did she know when I needed cheering up? I don’t know. I don’t announce when I’ve wept buckets down the toilet. But real friends … they have this uncanny ability to sense another’s burden.

My friend who is leaving – she’s older than I am. She’s the one who has been privy to all my secrets, my hurts, my fears through all these years … heck, she’s the one who tells me I’m ugly without make-up! I know that if friends arrive bearing food, it was at her instigation. When I declined an invitation to join our church ladies’ plan to go on a restaurant cruise, she – being the treasurer – paid for an extra seat then coerced me into coming along, knowing that I’d enjoy it as a treat away from the kids.

But perhaps I should not let this wave of melancholy wash over even as I feel that staying connected via texts and FB is a poor substitute for face-to-face communication. Reunions happen. Just last week we, the hubby and I, had a lovely time having coffee in the garden with a couple who flew back to our town after returning home for good two years ago. They  had accepted our invitation to stay behind after service even though they were scheduled to travel to Abu Dhabi with their four kids the following morning. While our children bounced up and down the trampoline, I asked questions:

How do you feel about the influx of refugees to your country? They answered in the affirmative. Would you feel that way had you not lived here and interacted with them? Both husband and wife shook their heads. We went on to talk about other sundry matters. Child discipline. Angela Merkel. House renovations. Raising boys. Christian living. After they left, I gave thanks for the experience then reflected on how much we are all the same even though we have different skin colors. How much we are all enriched whenever we reach out and exchange ideas with others! This last was an especially meaningful insight since the hubby had dragged me to a meet-up with people whom I didn’t know just days before this reunion.

A week or two ago, I learned a new word courtesy of The Artidote:

pistanthrophobia
n. the fear of trusting people due to past experiences and relationships gone bad.

My first reaction was “So this is it!” It was a relief to finally put a word to an emotion that has been with me for so long yet remained unnamed.

It’s another fact of life that as you grow older, some friends fall by the wayside. I don’t wish to elaborate further on this except to say that some experiences make you treasure those friends who have proven time and again to be real. Yes, there will be times when you’re pissed off with one another, times to cool off until a day when the warmth returns as if nothing has happened. Right now, even as I ready my mind not to see another friend who will be leaving in three months’ time, all I can think of is …

This friend … she’s real. That’s why I treasure her. We’ve both gone through cycles of cooling off, yes. Funny thing is, when I first met her, I didn’t think we’d hit it off. But then, my friendships are always like that. Those individuals who’ve become close because of shared values and interests are usually those who gave first impressions that turned me off.

In a murderous time
     the heart breaks and breaks
             and lives by breaking.
It is necessary to go
     through dark and deeper dark
             and not to turn.
                                  Stanley Kunitz, The Testing Tree

Ten years ago, I cried a whole day when the family of a friend immigrated to the US. Several months later, I wept for another day when another family left. To avoid the pain of separation, I told myself one must not get close enough to people. But then life happens. Without knowing it, certain individuals – some with quirks you can’t even tolerate in your children or husband – sneak unnoticed into the heart. And expat life does not help. Living so far away from home, one’s walls tumble down over time.

Even as I write this, I know that the symphony of life will continue, the music cresting in moments that catch us unaware till their passing. The coming months will bring new people into my life, some of whom will creep into the heart unknowingly until one day one realizes that they have become friends who – as Marie Kondo so aptly puts it – spark joy.

In the meantime, I will read. Because. Books remain the only unchanging (material) constant in this ever shifting world of mine.

The words you can’t find, you borrow. We read to know we’re not alone. We read because we are alone. We read and we are not alone. 
                                                 Gabrielle Zevin, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

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Comfort food for the mind
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