My August Life Lines column, from the most recent issue of Catholic New York:
When I turned 50 last year, I had some vague notions of how I wanted to mark my half-century on earth. A lot of it had to do with visiting friends I haven’t seen in a while, reflecting on where I’ve been and where I’d like to go next, and getting right with God.
But now that I’m closing in on the end of my year, I find that the past few months have ushered in a time of my life that can best be described as “expansion.”
In years past, a friend might have had something important or difficult going on in his or her life, and I’d think to myself, “I should try to get there.” But for one reason or another, I didn’t make it happen. Too busy, too far, too something. And usually I would regret it later. This year, whenever I thought, “I should (fill in the blank),” I did it. I followed my heart instead of my head, and not just where physical journeys were concerned.
For friends on Facebook and friends via email and friends around the corner or hours away, I have felt this kind of expansive love, a desire to strengthen old bonds, build new bonds, and just generally revel in the wonder that is relationship. And at the ripe old age of almost-51, I have come to realize that relationship is what it’s all about, whether we’re talking about God or family or friends or strangers. This life isn’t worth much if we don’t put relationship at the heart of it.
So often I think we imagine that serious relationships are reserved for our spouse, our parents, our children, and maybe one or two close friends. But imagine how much richer our lives can become if we open ourselves up to the possibility that love relationships can exist outside those boundaries.
When I wrote Walking Together, my book on spiritual friendship, I explored this idea of non-romantic soul mates, those friends – from all walks of life, of either gender, of any age, any faith or none – who connect with us on a deeper level. I’m finally starting to more fully live what I wrote about, not because I have “better” friends or different friends but because I have removed any self-imposed limitations or expectations on “friendship” and what the world says that’s supposed to mean. The result has been this expansion, this feeling of wanting to wrap my arms around the world, this realization that I have been blessed by the presence of so many good people who walk into my life on a regular basis. Some are passing through, others stay for a while and then move on, and a smaller group plant themselves in the soil of my soul.
Those friends, the ones with whom I make that extra effort, will be with me forever, connected even when we are not together, connected for all time simply by virtue of our love for each other, a love grounded in our willingness to accept each other exactly as we are, to love without any conditions, to simply take pleasure in the sheer joy of making each other smile, of sharing each other’s sorrows, of being present – physically when we can, virtually when we can’t – day after day, year after year.
In my book I wrote, “We have to learn to recognize the diamonds in the rough – those people who may not initially seem to have much in common with us but end up in our lives for reasons we can’t explain. When we accept these blessings and begin to seek out ways to nurture the early bonds of spiritual friendship, we will find ourselves with a growing community of people who can see beyond the ‘mask’ we sometimes wear in public, people who know our hearts.”
Life is full of good surprises, if we are willing to risk a little and love a lot, and that realization has been the greatest blessing of my half-century year.