Wednesday, October 12, 2016

my many people

On my drive home today, I listened to a virtual bookclub from a podcast I just started listening to. In the conversation between the regular host and her friend, they discussed how much they like this one particular memoirist. Then, one of the hosts started rattling off a list of authors to whom she pledges allegiance. I recognized the names, and have read some of their books, but I didn't recognize the names as those of my authors.

Which got me thinking, who are my authors? Who are the people I'll buy a book from as soon as it comes out, whose books all appear on my shelf, whose mantras or ideologies or quotes tether my heart to life in a specific way? I thought of a few novelists whom I enjoy, and then a few nonfiction writers whose one or two books or essays mean a lot to me. But none to who I'm loyal, or whom I feel are loyal to me in that particular way that fans can feel.

In this short mental search for my authors, I started to feel a little desperate, and then a little sad. It went deeper, because I realized it wasn't really about being able to name my own personal tribe of authors, it was about being able to name my own personal tribe of friends. Or, even more importantly, those one or two who will always be there for me.

Now let me say - I have some incredible friends who love me and have my back. They feed me, volunteer airport pickups and drop-offs (a true test of friendship in LA), bring food and keep my company when I've overextended myself in planning an elaborate dessert party, listen to my sometimes in-cohesive reflections, and tell me I'm ok. But here's the thing: I've always wanted a person. Some might say I had one growing up. My best friend and I knew each other since the time we were five and were often inseparable, and yet there were always other friends who came in and out of the picture and, to my scared and lonely heart, threatened our relationship. Now, friends have husbands and families and college friends and their own important things going on. Sometimes I wish their important thing were me.

I write this knowing that it points to my core brokenness: that one way (or, one of the ways) in which I will always feel an ache of what's missing. My senior year of high school, that best friend I'd met at age five had already graduated and left town for a city a few hours away, and then for another continent. I felt incredibly lonely, only intensified by the fact that I knew she was making new friendships during a new, meaningful experience in her life.

It was the struggle of that year without her that still defines me today: I would learn to let go and trust that I'd be ok even if I didn't have a person.

Or, rather, it was the realization that I could have many people. Since then, I have had many close friends, but nobody I would call a best friend. And I hesitate to do that (possibly still out of brokenness - will they then leave, to?). It is a discipline I practice: welcoming others, offering myself, cultivating a sacred in-between-us space. What this has allowed is a life full of persons without attaching myself fully to a person. Knowing a friend as one of many instead of my one and only has made space between me and her for others to be in my life. (And, if I can go there, for Jesus to be my one and only.)

It all does come back to the books, because if you come to visit me, you will see a really random assortment of authors and styles that fill my shelves. Some may see this and point to my lack of self control at bookstores (and they may be partly right). But I would also say that I've developed a way to let many voices and hearts in, and I'm still learning to enjoy the way this practice simultaneously crowds and empties my ever-searching heart.

PS I realized after writing this that I do have an author. Henri Nouwen is my guy, which is a little ironic because it was probably his writing that influenced this approach to keeping sacred distance in relationships.

(photo: alone with my shadow, Minneapolis, 2015)

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