I have been musing about friendship, a train of thought sparked by the recent visit of my very dear friend Pat. She arrived last Thursday, in time to join us for community supper. Before we ate, I shared the gist of my thoughts for the evening's reflection:
Pat and I have been friends for at least 36 years. We met when she came to do an internship at Sojourners; but our friendship really began when she and I fell into the habit of walking together, for miles and miles. We walked to work (about two miles down D.C.'s streets) and home again every work day of every week, for years. We walked other places too: around and through city parks and in the wildlife refuge that bordered All Saints Convent outside Baltimore. At some time early on in that cocoon of shared pedestrian movement, one of us cracked open just enough, a crack that spread to the other. A rush of vulnerable air blew in, carrying wonderment and friendship on its currents.
So here's what I think about friendship. It doesn't happen every day, and certainly not with a click of a mouse. It takes presence, some amount of time, and grace. The good news is, the more we accompany one another, whether on a city street, or by a woodpile, in a kitchen, around a garden, or on a mountain trail, the more the angels of vulnerability, courage, opportunity, and connection hover around us.
There's another thing I've noticed about friendship. Once its shape, the heft and feel of it, has entered your life, it sticks around; and one day you feel its contours in other places, with other ones; like trees, for example. Or rocks, or plants, or even, possibly, snakes.
The other day Scot told a story of a milk snake that had dropped onto his shoulder as he opened the door of the ecobarn. A milk snake has an alarming similarity to a copperhead. Scot explained that he is quite careful about snakes, because they seem to seek him out. He has come face to face with quite a few around here, including rattle snakes. So he makes a habit of checking in grassy corners and under things before walking or reaching into places where one might be. He had done this before opening the door. This particular snake, though, had that all figured out and was waiting overhead. So when the door swung open, Scot was immediately and frighteningly in touch with the other than human world. A shock of adrenalin flung him reflexively backward. Then Scot saw that the snake was one of the delicately colored milk snakes that live in our crannies and underground spaces. Following this moment of recognition, he nudged it carefully back into the barn, where it is helpful in keeping down the mice population, whose members tend to raid the chicken feed. As it wound gracefully away, Scot took out his camera phone and snapped a picture.
There is a passage I came across in Plant Intelligence, a book by Stephen Buhner that is currently near the top of my reading stack. It'sin his chapter called "Gaia and the Pattern that Connects". It goes:
The Gaia theory has found such powerful purchase in the human world because it reminds us of something many of us intuitively know to be true (and which every four year old understands): that the world is alive, intelligent, aware, communicative, and filled with soul; that we are part of something much larger than ourselves; that we are companioned by millions upon millions of related life forms?
We are surrounded by many companions, and each one offers the possibility of encounter, a meeting that will, if we are lucky, startle, surprise, and astonish us. And with some of these, human and not, there may appear the open field of friendship, where if we are graced and vulnerable, we may walk.
In our little community here at Rolling Ridge, some of us have been friends for years and years; and with others, we are only starting to spin our cocoons of opportunity and vulnerability. Surrounding us, there waits, if Buhner is right, a million and more relationships and connections to astound us. My prayer for us is that we might from time to time experience grace-filled moments of startled awakening and deepening friendship, with one another and with our wild companions. May it be so.
* Photo by Scot DeGraf