Tuesday, May 19, 2009


My family and I are moving in about three weeks. I’ve been saying goodbyes with people. I've even given my email address to folks I know at the coffee shop! (A good book that can help with transitions is Praying Our Goodbyes by Joyce Rupp, OSM: Ave Maria Press, 1988.)

So many people enter and leave our lives, casually and profoundly. Why do some friendships last and others don't? The philosopher Martin Buber wrote about the rapport between people (he used different terms like “the I-Thou encounter” and “the event of meeting”) that brings us out of the objectivity of the everyday world into an event of mutual respect and affirmation. You could push that idea a little and say: sometimes that “event” of friendship is limited to a certain time, and sometimes the rapport lasts a long time. What makes the difference?

I think of people to whom I was very close, but the bonds didn’t last over the long haul. Beth and I had several great friendships during our three years in Virginia. But just four years later, when we returned for my graduation, only one of those friendships (actually a couple-friendship) remained: the rest had fallen out of touch with us.

On the other hand, I’ve one friend whom I met only once, in 1983, and we’re still in touch over all these years! I had comparatively few long-term friendships from my college years (1975-1979), but several from my masters’ degree program (1979-1982).

We like to stay in contact with people and send over 100 Christmas cards each year, But something about that seems rushed and minimal. I feel like I should do more. The busier life becomes, seems like the less time we have for friendships. I used to be a faithful letter-writer but now I’m pretty much a telephoner and emailer.

I’m a believer in God’s providence, and I’ve had occasions to connect with friends at opportune moments. I called a friend on her birthday several years ago and, as it happened, her brother had passed away very recently, so we talked about that. So many times we (all those of us who exchange cards) hear of losses in our respective families only at that one “catch up” time, Christmas.

Once I read a book, coauthored by two pastors, concerning church leadership. One of the authors confessed that he was all about goals and getting tasks done; if he had to discard people along the way to achieve the goal, he’d do it. But the man wrote that his wife never could discard anyone; she’d rather “lose” a goal than to lose a friendship, and so, he writes, the two of them compliment each other. That’s good! A person needs good goals and good friendships.

Expressing feelings to friends can be difficult, but it's so important to do. A dear friend says, "I have a philosophy about life. The world would be a much better place if people took a moment to let people know about the positive impact they have had on others’ lives. Too much time is spent on negativity. The good in people simply isn’t recognized; too often it is taken for granted." I liked my friend's philosophy so much that, with her permission, I quoted her in an article: http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=3420

In the book Uncommon Friendships (Mariner Books, 1989), James Newton describes his friendships with Thomas Edison, Harvey Firestone, Henry Ford, Alex Carrel, and Charles Lindbergh. Amazingly, Newton never asked to meet any of them. He recounts life-lessons that he learned from these men and their families, but I was struck by a comment about the author early in the book, “With Jim, personal relationships come first.”

I try to live that way, which is why I’m telephoning, emailing, and otherwise contacting several people we’ve known here in Akron. Perhaps Facebook will be just a fad over time, but I’ve been very happy to connect with some people whom I liked years and years ago—and hopefully that will be a way that current friends and I will be able to stay friends as my family and I travel to a new location.

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