Recently I was found.
An old dear friend reached out to me from across the wide expanse of years. We were young and dumb together, he and I. We had had many adventures–real, crazy adventures and wild emotional ones too. But that was long ago and we haven’t talked in years. We had grown up, found love, formed homes, started families. Life got busy and we drifted apart.
During the years when we were close, our relationship had been an anchor. We passed long letters back and forth over sea and land. He was in the Navy, I was teaching in Texas. Those letters kept me afloat during two very difficult years when I was far away from home, far away from love, far away from even myself. He kept me grounded, kept me reading, kept me thinking, kept me breathing. We talked about everything. We often disagreed. But no matter how spirited the debate, he saw me, really saw me for who I was, and adored me for all my imperfections. He was the first person who loved me who didn’t minimize my flaws. That is powerful love.
One New Years Eve, over 15 years ago, in a city hundreds of miles from where either of us lived he found me, sought me out to slip his arms through mine. As I lay my head on his shoulder and told him secretes, I knew that I would love him forever, that he would always be dear to me. Always.
At one point in the height of being young and dumb we had a bitter falling out. I can’t remember now any of the details or the circumstances. But I do remember the sadness, the loneliness of realizing that something profound had shifted in my life, of feeling a veil had been lifted and that I was left with life, stripped bare. Without him. I ached intensely. I was angry for I was sure that I would love him always but this did not feel like love. We stopped talking for what felt like a lifetime. The silence was so loud.
After a while though, no matter how intensely I felt the loss of him, I found that I could sit with the memories of our friendship, sit with them without anger at his betrayal. I remembered all the ways he saw me, all the ways he knew me, cherished me, even if he couldn’t understand me, even if he no longer could appreciate me. And it became clear to me that no matter how big or intense the hurt, the love I had for him was big enough–big enough to hold it. Big enough to overshadow it. Big enough to balance it. Big enough to bless it. Big enough to let it be. Because I had been seen. He saw me.
By the time his letter of apology came in the mail, by the time he found me again there was nothing but love left in my heart.
Our relationship changed after that. It would change many times. Not for the worse or even for the better. It just was, as we were, growing up. There were hurts. There was laughter. One day I sat on a park bench with him in New Orleans. I was teasing him about some girl he was dating, some girl he would later marry but the edge in my voice betrayed me. I looked down at my shoes, maybe a little embarrassed. “I just want you to be happy” I said to him. “Do you?” he challenged me in the way that only he could. “Do you really? Or do you just want me to be yours?” I was, like I often was around him,dumb struck. I just kept looking at my shoes.
But later that night I sat in a rocking chair on my friends porch in the Garden District rocking myself and looking up at the big old moon. “Happy” I whispered to the warm Louisiana wind. “Happy”. I sent my wish out for him. And for the first time I took into my heart the reality that love does not mean attachment and love often means walking away, setting boundaries, saying goodbye.
Of course it wasn’t really goodbye. Because love kept bringing us back in different ways. There were a few Sunday mornings when as I lay in bed with Juan, watching the political talks shows the phone would ring. He was watching too. Or he had news. About a clerkship. About a girl. About a death. He came to my wedding, driving through the rain from Manhattan. As he stood there with the woman who would be his wife he looked at me, and I looked at him and we both smiled–for he saw me, he saw me exactly for what I was. Happy. Messy, imperfect but happy. And it brought him joy.
But life is a busy thing. Careers, children, houses that are too big, budgets that are too small. We no longer had time for penning long letters. Sunday mornings were full of chores, and work. There is a Christmas card, maybe two and then silence. But this time the silence came so gradually I didn’t even hear it. Its been at least 5 years since our last communication–It was around the birth of his son. I sent a congratulations. He sent a thank you note. And then it was quiet.
But he found me.
Truth is he always does.
And he found me at the perfect time.
At a time when I needed to remember that love, true fearless love, is big enough to hold any hurt, any betrayal. That in the end love is always bigger. That forgiveness is but an affirmation that love is more important, mightier, stronger. He walked back into my life exactly at a time when I needed to remember that fearless love changes, morphs and may appear to retreat but never really dies. That love is not equal to attachment but that love always finds you when you need it most.
He is coming this way, my dear old friend. Passing through town this month. And he says he wants to see me. He always did see me. And when he does I will slip my arms round his waist and lay my head on his shoulder for a moment and see him too.