What Summer Teaches Us About Friendship
I really wish that I didn’t have to write about friendship. Why not independence, grief, loneliness, or time? Let it be something I am familiar with, let it be an easy topic, let it be anything but friendship! Being a friend is something that I am the least skilled at, and I know if I think about it too long discomfort and apologies will bubble up. But, I have battled the topic from spring until now and cannot delay any longer. I must concede to the stubborn lesson that summer will teach us…
Why do I want to avoid the subject so badly? Because friendship is as heartbreakingly good as summer.
After the delicate morning dew of spring dries, the year climbs into the noon-time high that is summer. The excitement of youth scatters the clouds and suddenly everything bursts into sunshine. The streets awaken with the soundtrack of country anthems blasted out the windows of trucks as they drive by. People have crawled out of their homes and fill up the sidewalks and parks with their laughter and play.
The lawn mowers and leaf blowers come out to join the hammers and saws in their song. With sudden confidence all sounds burst out about the glories of summer. There is such freedom, suddenly we realize that we are equipped to live. Summer does not ask for a coat or shoes. No need for an umbrella!
“Come exactly as you are,” the sun beckons. And so we do.
Wearing our standard of bare minimum we lounge on front steps and gladly take our time to talk to neighbours in the driveway. There is patience and ease which the warm weather allows us. Nature is no longer something to protect ourselves from (with our various containers). Now it is our friend!
This inevitably leads us to make or rediscover our friends.
Summer is full of glorious days and nights spent with friends. Baseball tournaments, camp fires, cottage trips, bike rides, and cool lakes all invite us to friendship.
Which is why it is so weird for me to be writing this this summer. This summer that I have spent away from 90% of my friends.
For the first time in a long time I am living the hot months far away from the farming area of Ontario where I went to school. The schedule that I was lucky enough to follow in Ontario was one of hard work during the week and intensive fun during the weekend. A community event was scheduled for nearly every single weekend from June through August. I was sure to have an occasion to dance and drink under the stars, while walks, bike rides (both pedal and on my dirt bike), and window-down drives filled the days.
This is nearly opposite to the summer that I have had here.
So, a lot of the time has been passed in missing my friends from Ontario, and wishing there was some way for me to experience the same amount of community and fun that I experienced there.
But that was dumb.
While my loud mind was talking about what I was missing, my quiet mind and heart were learning and loving this new experience.
The point of summer is to show us the highest potential of beauty and comfort that nature can offer us. Friendship is the same, and that is the real problem that I have with friendship.
My friends have looked me in the eyes when they were widened with excitement, shrouded with shame, and drowned with darkness. And every single time the message is clear, “I see you Sarah”. OUCH! That makes me prickle with discomfort! I squirm under the eye contact thinking “No way, this goes against my expectations for people in the world. I thought it was “survival of the fittest”, a competition in which no one is your friend.”
But over and over my friends have been the ones who have truly shown me the highest potential of beauty and comfort and love that life can offer us.
How are we supposed to handle that?
A common struggle for me in the summer is to get mad at myself while watching a sunset. With the clouds set on fire and the sky filling up my heart till bursting point I get completely overwhelmed. I have to avert my eyes because I cannot digest the beauty to the fullness that it deserves. Such a beautiful thing should be met by clear and wise eyes that can truly appreciate it, I think. And since I have a regular mind and am easily distracted, I get frustrated at not being able to repay the sunset with the gratitude that it deserves.
This is the same thing with friendship-the more love that is shared the more beautiful the sunset of those people. I look at it with my mouth open in dismay. What am I to do with all this love? How can I return such beauty when my mind is easily distracted and my heart is not always clear?
So I have developed a pretty lame strategy for dealing with this…avoid it.
Where is the strength in that? Do you have the bravery to accept the love of your friends? And if you don’t what are the tactics that you use to deflect it? Have you mastered the “Friendly Aloof” and “Temporary Resident” like I have?
I know that I am not the only one who is uncomfortable with the height of love that they have reached with their friends. But let me tell you how summer helps us with that…
A friend is the summer sun that tells you to come as you are. They do not require a coat or umbrella. They are your friend because you both exist in the Universe as pieces of the one.
Once you are in their rays of gaze they may prickle your skin with heat. Your face turns red-is that sunburnt or blushed? You realize suddenly that in your excitement you simply ran out to greet your friend without covering all your skin, without covering all of your heart and mind. And their rays reached out to greet all that was exposed. As the heat of exposure comes you are instantly aware of all inches of your bare self. And we blush and burn in response to exposing ourselves so freely.
So we go back inside and think next time I will be smarter. Next time I will cover up more of who I am. I will wear whatever I have to so that I appear exactly as I want to appear. I will look cooler and smarter. So we go out again, slathered with chemicals…uhh sunscreen. This time we don’t get burnt or embarrassed, but there is something different in the relationship. The sun can’t quite reach us like before, there’s a whole layer of artificial sh*t blocking it.
But we can’t escape the heat. We leave feeling just as uncomfortable, though this time it stems from the discomfort of not being our true and honest selves.
Meanwhile the original embarrassment that turned us so pink has been slowly doing work on ourselves. All that was exposed begins to change and though it was initially painful, now it has turned into a glow about our skin. Suddenly we start to see ourselves as looking better than before.
Though a friend may cause us pain by exposing parts of ourselves, over time this inevitably transforms those parts into healthier shades. A friend that pushes and asks the deeper questions can actually help us develop into the most beautiful forms of ourselves, and encourage the type of self love that something as simple as a tan on our skin hints towards.
Then we feel our friends in the wind. Coming to sweep across our bodies as they bake on the beach. Cooling us and lifting the heights of the waters to create wave monsters for our excitement. The sounds of “battle” are that of laughter and joy as we race and float on the waves.
So too, our friends bring us relief from the heat of self discovery by breezing in with opportunities for laughter.
This year I spent some days growing stagnant in my room. The door closed to create a desert under the sun. I would swelter in my own mind, struggling after a problem or lesson that I wanted to solve. And then swoosh, my door would open and in would barge the winds of my roommates. They would clear away my old desert air by bringing fresh perspectives from the far away lands of their minds. And then would lift me up and carry me off to the joys of music and dancing.
Is there any way for me to express my gratitude for my friends in being winds such as this?
Can you now see what I mean about being overwhelmed by the kindness?
But here, under the sun and rain of our friendships all of the seeds of our soils fill the world with beautiful green life. The sun gets to look down and watch each rose blossom under its rays. The winds race through the mazes of cornfields, runs its hands through the soft wisps of grassy fields and sings in the branches of the trees.
The red fire of the sunset consumes me just as much as I consume it. And likewise, you are the sunshine in your friends’ lives. You too are their wind. And within each of us is the garden that results from our friendships. This garden delights the world.
When you are sitting and laughing with your friend, you are exemplifying life loving life itself.
When you feel that unbearable gratitude and love for your friends when you think back on all the times that they have said “I see you”, don’t feel uncomfortable, guilty or undeserving! Realize that those feelings cannot help but seep out of you into the world and reach over to fill them with love and comfort too.
There are many many things that I am not good at in friendships. Communication, honesty, trust, reliability and more. But because of this different summer (and specifically the new friends I have made in this summer) I aim to change that. I have been made to see that while I may not feel like I accurately honour the sunset, the only thing that I can do is to keep showing up every night. And every night to leave myself uncovered to the prickling gaze of a friend. To ride with their winds and blossom in response. To respect my friends I must be willing to accept their help and love out of love for myself.
We must start to see that we too are the sun and the wind. And that the sunset looks on us with as much astonishment as we do on it.
We are all apart of this one. And we cannot possibly repay the love of a friend with anything but love in return. So just stop turning away.
How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”
-Winnie the Pooh