I have a good friend whom I havent seen in a long time. As much as I would love to see him, I know it's going to be a long time before that happens. Strange circumstances, which are very complicated and will have to wait until the story unfolds as the plot of a "B" movie, will keep us apart geographically. However, emotionally.........spiritually.......the love that links us will always be there. This is what makes me feel calm knowing that whatever happens in our lives, we are always connected.Our friendship grew over one particular summer when we were both adolescents and working at a children's camp. We had been given the task to share being in charge of two activities..........the craft shop and the canoeing program. In the mornings Martin was down at canoeing while I was up in the craft shop. In the afternoons, our roles reversed.
You'd think that because our days were spent in opposite ends of the camp activity spectrum that we wouldn't find our common ground, but we did during all the inbetween activity times, in the evenings when the campers were sound asleep, on staff days off away from the melee. Whenever we had time, we were together laughing, singing, playing pranks, sharing inside jokes, listening to music, working on our own art in the craft shop in the evenings, hanging out on the swim dock during the post lunch rest hour break.
Our lives intertwined like it does with your best friend. Even in the absence of one another, we were inseparable.
Sometimes at night, we would sit on the beach in the stillness under the stars. There were solemn spaces between our words as we found peace in each other's company. Those big night sky evenings where heaven feels close enough to touch sealed our friendship. We were safe to share our strongest yearnings, our deepest secrets and our dreams. There was no biting judgement, and no worries that we would hurt each other's feelings. Sure we would argue and disagree, but our respect and trust of one another communicated unconditional acceptance. Comfortably meant to be. That's how it always felt between Martin and I.
One of the dreams we had was the desire to collaborate on a book. I would write the text and Martin, who was very good at drawing would create the pictures to go with the words. We even sketched out various storylines and plots, usually revolving around the magic of summer camp. I still hope that one day it will happen. In fact, I have the text written......... he doesn't know it yet.
There are very few people in our lives where we are completely comfortable being quiet with. Have you ever experienced this? It's a very different quiet than when you're alone because theres an energy........not a zingy zappy energy...........more like a comforting hum that fills the space and envelopes the air.
Henri Nouwen, in his book Reaching Out -- The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life, writes about this kindred essence as holy ground. His own experience felt in the quiet contemplative moments shared with another human being offered him this insight. He believed that this kindred essence was the very heart of true community. When I read this last night, I responded as I usually do to new learning and I looped back into my own memory bank to find an example in my life which would offer me understanding of what Nouwen was conveying. I naturally thought of Martin. Since then, I have felt that holy ground again and wondered where he is.
I have no idea what brings two people together into a powerful bond of a friendship like this. Attraction, synchronicity, temperment, being in the right place at the right time.........destiny.... it's that and other intangible reasons. At the time, we never questioned it. It just seemed perfectly expected. It was truly meant to be.
One of the other activities that Martin and I shared on occasion was planning and running the Sunday Chapel together. Chapel at camp was the only time when the whole camp reflected together. Songs, poems and stories were shared.........around a theme, which of course often included friendship. It's the crux of any summer camp....... We would plan the hour, choose the flow of the informal service and then when the camp bell was rung quietly to invite the campers and staff to join us, we would stand together side by side and lead a group of 120 kids and 30 staff through the songs and shared readings, all the while surrounded by the holy ground hum.
On the last day of camp that year, after the last of the kids had boarded a bus for home, Martin and I found ourselves in the craft shop together to clear out the remnants and to clean up the memories of creativity. The old tape recorder played our music, but apart from that, the rest of camp which was normally vibrant with a cacophony of spirited voices, was now settled and silent. As we plugged away sweeping clay dust, cleaning out old plaster molds and throwing away nubs of crayons, dried paints and forgotten masterpieces, we reflected on the summer.....on the fun, the days off, the crazy antics, the hilarity......on the dramas and the relationships formed between staff.........we shared our sadness of another summer coming to a close and planned out our first reunion after we returned to the reality of city and university life.
As the last day unfolded, our reflections held us in suspension of the inevitable.....it was going to be over soon. Our days living together, seeing each other from morning to night were about to come to an end. Of course we saw one another when we returned to our homes, we knew it would be forever different. This led to more quiet........comfortable quiet solitude.
I don't know who said it first. "I love you" was spoken....thrown out there into the hum that resonated between the two of us. It wasn't like it wasn't felt. There was never an urgency to speak it out loud. But the spoken words sealed the holy ground between us. I remember stopping whatever i was doing.....and looking at him as he looked at me smiling. We looked at one another for a long time........both of us knowing......just knowing how lucky we were.
Much water has flowed under that proverbial bridge since our last day in the craft shop and some of our most memorable personal moments we have shared. In fact, I shared an apartment one summer with his fiance whom I grew close to automatically and then he was the emcee at my wedding, having grown close to my husband as well. For years, we wrote each other letters, talked on the phone, visited whenever my growing family and I would returned to Ontario for the holidays. And every time we'd meet, no matter what the circumstance, my best friend always made a point of quietly telling me that he loved me.
But that now seems long ago. As I mentioned, circumstances and life choices have pulled us apart. It's been several years since that comfortable solitude hum resonated between us while we were in the same room and I find myself feeling the hurt of not really being in his immediate life all over again tonight. It's a mixed bag of emotions I seem to carry......there is a calm knowledge that our deep feelings for each other will never alter, but there is a sadness that he isn't just a phone call away anymore.
I will take solace in the new understanding that the kindred essence ground between us will forever remain holy.
"I got God on my side
I'm just trying to survive
That if what you do to survive
Kills the things you love
Fear's a powerful thing
It can turn your heart black you can trust
It'll take your God filled soul
And fill it with devils and dust"
Bruce Springsteen, Devils and Dust