Learning About Friendship – Part 2

So I learned what a friend isn’t. At the end of the day, that’s not so important. I also learned (or at least was reminded of) what a friend is. That’s more important. Again, Facebook, for all its inherent faults, helped me along.

Last week, I saw someone I knew from 15 years ago had finally given in and join Facebook. Now I wouldn’t say I’d been best buds with this particular person, but we were well acquainted. We were in the same church, so not surprisingly at one time we saw each other on at least a weekly basis. Though not a lawyer, he had, in his professional capacity and as a friend, referred clients to me in past. I saw that he was FB friends with at least five other friends of mine, so I threw my usual caution and lack of self-confidence to the wind and sent along a friend request. Over the next few days I saw that he added lots of friends.

That’s when it was clear that even though I hadn’t been officially ignored, I wasn’t going to be one of them. Then there’s that little twinge of embarrassment, a bit like when you greet somebody in the street and they look at you and blank you. That has happened to you, right? And then the twinge becomes a cringe, while you remind yourself that it isn’t the the same as putting out your hand to shake someone else’s just to have them keep theirs firmly in their pocket. I withdrew my friend request, as if that gave it some modicum of dignity.

Now this was one those things where you don’t see it coming, but on the other hand it isn’t a total surprise. It happened some time back with another friend. I’d known them a bit longer. Closer to 20 years. Even used to go over to their house every week for food, fellowship and Bible study. We use to hang out with a lot of the same people from church. Though they did end the once-a-week thing rather abruptly, as far as I knew we were still friends. So there they were on Facebook and already FB friends with the same bunch of people, so I thought this was a no-brainer. I had bet they’d be glad to know how I was doing and I really wanted to catch up with them. This time I didn’t have the chance to withdraw. They deleted my request without a lot of pause. It’s times like these when I wish Facebook had the programmed savvy to keep from continually popping up an alert telling me that I should add them because we have so many friends in common.

So what does this have to do with real friendship? Even if you love me, you are probably ready for me to get to the point.

The point is that unlike with these and a few other individuals,  I have taken the opportunity to offend a lot of people. Usually not intentionally, but nonetheless I am often an idiot. I have made some really bad decisions that have affected the lives of some of my friends.  (I’m glad I have some friends upon whom I haven’t placed any baggage. I’m glad I have some Facebook friends that I didn’t know real well and have gotten to know a bit better. But back to the point of my story…)

There are people who would have good reasons to walk away and not have anything to do with me. They are my friends on Facebook and that’s good, because it is a convenient way to communicate and share thoughts and ideas, keep up with what is happening in their lives, whether big events or daily miscellany. And it’s just one way they remind me that I still matter to them. They are also people that I can pick up the phone and call. They probably know that I would be happy to take their call any time, day or night. Well, probably worried to take it at some times of the night, but more than willing. They can disagree with me on political or theological positions (and I provide lots of opportunity to do that). They can put up with my lack of social skills due to being a bit Asperger or that other kind of person that starts with the same first syllable.

So I suppose who I don’t have as friends just helps me to appreciate who I do have as friends. And that’s a good thing.

A man who has friends must himself be friendly,
But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

Learning About Friendship – Part 1

As I was about to start this, I looked back through my blog archives and discovered that it’s been almost exactly two years since I last mentioned this topic.  So two more years of Facebook and I’m still puzzled about what a friend is. The experiences of this week have caused me to evaluate this further.

I’m glad to have met some new friends on Facebook, whether through playing poker or commenting in the same group or forum. However, I’m not so concerned with Facebook friends, per se, but rather what it tells us about the friends we already had and how we deal with the past. It opens a window on relationships so that we might see them in a way we haven’t before.

There was an interesting interaction this week with someone I’ve known for well over 30 years – and one of those rare individuals who had sent me a friendship request on Facebook. We hadn’t seen each other in over 20 years and I knew that our lifestyle choices had diverged significantly since that time. She posted something on her Wall derisive and mocking toward people she had seen protesting at an abortion clinic.

Having mellowed in my old age, I normally let these sorts of thing pass. It’s her Wall, after all. Instead I very mildly challenged it. (And those who know me know the mildness took some effort.) The result was like being a sheep in the midst of hungry wolves, including my old friend. I was essentially told that I was in the midst of a closed society of real friends and I needed to shut up and and go away. The language wasn’t quite as polite as that statement may imply, but then it wasn’t the sort of language I would repeat. And there was plenty of it and from plenty of people.

But then I saw something else. In a different status update, this same friend offered some sort of offhand remark about a food or a film or something rather inconsequential, saying she f***ing loved it. A mutual friend who has known her as long as I have, replied that she agreed, though she didn’t care for the choice of language. Now I’ve seen flame wars in forums and all sorts of bad cyber-behaviour, but what followed was just repulsive. The mutual friend didn’t see much of it, because she took up the first friend’s subsequent generally broadcast invitation for anyone and everyone to f*** off if they didn’t like the way she behaved. After the mutual friend obliged, the first friend posted about her, mocking and belittling her for “defriending” and deriding Christians generally. The hate fest with her real friends that followed, where this mutual friend – who otherwise had never posted anything on her wall – was called the most revolting of names and as a curative for her Christianity was encouraged, in absentia, to engage in certain sexual  practices that are not even physically possible.

But here’s the telling thing. When I wrote privately and gently (yes, some of you would be again amazed at the self-restraint) to this sorry excuse for a friend, wondering why she would treat someone she’s known for so long so badly, she replied that this person “is not one of the people in my past that treated me with respect or was a great friend to me personally.” I thought to myself, why did you bother to be this person’s friend on Facebook? Why would you ask this person to be your Facebook friend and then when they say anything with which you disagree, not just defriend them on Facebook, but attack them and belittle them?

I could understand – just barely – if we were talking about junior high kids, but these are women on the verge of 40 years old who grew up in the same church and went to the same Christian school. This is clearly an example of how online communication allows people to get away with behaviours they would never contemplate in person. I didn’t get a chance to reply, because after writing back and saying she appreciated my point of view she defriended me.  Oh well.

Even at my age I’ve learned a little more about what a friend isn’t. But I’ve also learned more about what a friend is. It’s been a very instructive week.   But I’ll save that for next time.

Games

I saw the boardgame Stratego at Woolworths the other day and it brought back a few memories. And I do mean few.

I used to love board games. Growing up, I had at least half the length of the shelf that ran the length of my bedroom closest stacked with them. That would have been at least two games wide and several high. But the thing about games is that you need someone with whom to play them. I never had a lot of friends growing up. I had a chemistry set. And the board games.

So I didn’t get to play Stratego very often. As I moved into my teenage years, I had a few friends from church who were older than me, but we never played Stratego. We played guitars. I got pretty good at it and eventually the Stratego game must have been thrown out. (This must have happened after I moved away to college, as I never threw away anything.) It had probably lost pieces appropriated by my little brother for no known reason, but he always seemed to have bits and bobs of my stuff in his room.

If anyone ever played Stratego with me it was probably my cousin Kyle. He was (and still is, by last count) five years older than me. However, most of the time we played Monopoly. Not out of the box, because Kyle designed his own Monopoly boards. My uncle was a building sub-contractor and Kyle had access to big off-cuts of Formica. He would cut these in rectangles of what must have been about 2 feet by 3 feet. The perimeter of the board would be partitioned into the various properties using masking tape. Names would be created for them and deeds created from the names. The prices of the properties reflected the currency being used, which was always the large denomination money from the Game of Life, rather than the lower value Monopoly cash. I ended up with one of Kyle’s boards as a hand-me-down. I had it for ages.

When I got into college, I had the chance to play another one of the games that during my childhood spent most of the time in the top of my closet. During a brief window of time, my housemates and I played Risk. It is probably the greatest of all male bonding games. Often we would play at the home of another man in the church. His son was just a baby – now that son is serving with the Army in Iraq.

I still look back on this time of my life as one of the happiest. These days it is those college friendships that spend too much time on the shelf. I stay in contact with some – one or two occasionally read this blog – others haven’t been dusted off in ages. Some are undoubtedly missing enough pieces that the only thing left is to look at the box.

It’s when I think of college – that emergence into adulthood – that nostalgia hits the hardest. That’s when I have to go look in the mirror at the lines around my eyes and the reflection of the light off the top of my head to remind me that I’m not 20 anymore. I could also look down at my pot belly or look in on the sleeping faces of my own children upstairs – there’s plenty to remind me if I’m not absorbed in my own thoughts.

When I see the kids I teach just about to make that jump to college and university, I feel both jealous and sad.  They have the opportunity for so many great times ahead. Most of them may not remember much, because their social life is entirely fuelled by alcohol. Lots of alcohol. They don’t know to be jealous of the values with which I was raised and which were reinforced at my college. I am so glad that I never spent one college night drunk and obnoxious. None of the games we played were drinking games.

My children enjoy playing games. I hope they have more friends to play with than I did early on. I hope my son will find someone with whom to play Stratego, Monopoly, and Risk. I’ll try not to be too jealous.

Grown Up

I have known Jared all of his life. He was born the month after I moved away to college in my junior year (I commuted up until then) in the church where I went to college. When he was three I was teaching him about the guitar on the platform at church after the services. His family became good friends of mine and I spent a lot of time with them.

Jared graduated from Texas A&M last December, following his father and grandfather from the Corps of Cadets into active military service. Today as a 2nd Lieutenant in the US Army Rangers, Jared deploys to Iraq.

I will be praying daily for Jared’s safe return to his wife of less than seven months, his parents and sisters. If you get a chance, pray for Jared too.