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Posts Tagged ‘friends’

“Listening is an art that requires attention over talent, spirit over ego, others over self.” ~Dean Jackson

listening-manListening is a lost art. Believe it. There’s something to be said for sitting still, giving eye contact, and nodding along, not because you’re waiting for a chance to speak, but because you care enough to be there. I know too many people who are waiting to jump in, to offer suggestions, and to tell their own personal stories that may or may not be relevant to the issue at hand. But sometimes, sometimes listening should be just that — listening. Being there. Proving it.

And believe it or not, but someone you just met today can be a better listener than the friend you’ve had since diaper days. Someone who just walked into your life can be the friend to whom you can be most vulnerable and just let it out. Sometimes that’s better because you have no preconceived notions of them, and they have none of you. They can come into it as a fresh page ready to receive the scribbles of your soul.

I’ve had too many friends over the years who used me as just that sounding board, from those who I had known a while to those who I had just met, but something that was common to the vast majority was the assumption that there would be no reciprocation. I know this because these friends were never really there for me when I needed them, were never truly listeners for me because every time I saw them they were too busy talking.

Beware those who can’t keep their mouths shut long enough to listen. Odds are that if you let them in on your secrets, they won’t be secrets for long. And if they’re constantly interjecting their own thoughts how can they possibly be there for you? I know a few people who are always comparing whatever I’m saying with something that has happened in their life, even if there are absolutely no parallels, instead of just letting me vent, or get out my thoughts. They eventually moved on to other friendships, which was okay with me.

Because often that’s all I need is a pair of ears, a soul that obviously cares, and eyes that look into mine with empathy, with caring, with a firm commitment to be there for me. And that’s what I try my best to give to my friends who need me in turn. And it’s not reciprocity, the idea of “tit for tat.” It’s just being a good friend, no matter how often they may need me, or no matter how often I need them. They don’t keep score. They don’t disappear from my life, and I don’t from theirs.

Learning how to listen is a skill that is dormant from way too many people’s lives. It might have to do with the selfishness social media breeds, or it could be something else entirely. But whatever the reason, we need to bring it back. We need to empathize with others, to give them the gift of our time, because nothing is more precious.

Sam

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071dc4f8b0101a81903a1265c72f1748Atop a razor thin wire thirty feet above my head, nineteen blackbirds are perched, resolutely, zombie-like, side by side by side, as if waiting for the bus. Their balance is perfect, so self-assured that most appear to be asleep standing up, the skimpy thread bowing under their combined weight but under no threat of ripping. Forked talons curve artfully around the wire, one by one by one in a straight line until no more talons are left to be seen, and I wonder why there aren’t an even twenty of these beasts.

I count again.

Above their heads the sky is a dusky¬† blue, shot through with pale sunlight, in places hollowed out by the expanse of creamy clouds. There is no breeze as I sit on a park bench looking unabashedly at these denizens of the air, but they sit in place, content to play possum instead of spreading their wings and taking flight. I want to make a loud noise just to see if they will react. I want to scream them into action because I can’t do the same in my own little insulated world.

I sit here silently instead.

Are these birds ravens, like the storied birds of literative lore, or the much maligned crows that often darken doorsteps with their shadow-like precision? Or maybe they’re the infamous birds of the apocalypse, the souls of demons dressed up in outer ebony plumage, waiting patiently for the world to end. I watch as other birds drift past, but not one stops to join this horizontal conference thirty feet above my head. I wonder if this is evidence of some kind of winged etiquette, or a collaborative clique, a nearly extinct class system come home to roost.

I wonder if they will ever move.

I know I have somewhere else to be, something in my world that requires a particular kind of attention, but that doesn’t seem to matter right now. Instead I am engaged in a waiting competition of sorts, an intricate game of chicken where my opponents are actual birds. Quite rare indeed. They might as well be dead up there; they’re certainly dressed for it without even trying, these harbingers of a world bereft of color, sitting stolidly, impossibly, on a tiny wire.

I too am black.

Slowly, almost imperceptibly, the one on the far left shakes a tail feather, then two, then its entire tail is in motion, a plane motor kicking into gear. Seconds later it is gone, taken to the air in a blur of feathers and a sudden motivation that is impossible to gauge. The next one in line begins to stir moments later, an echo of its brother, already lost to the air, and the clouds, and the rest of the sky. Then he too is gone just as quickly, and I have already forgotten what he looked like, even though he was here for what seemed like an eternity. Seventeen blackbirds on the line, but they are no longer still.

I watch them take flight.

It is dizzying, staring up into the sky for so long, neck craned back to take it all in without missing a beat, but I couldn’t move if my life depended upon it. This is my world, and I am world leader pretend. And I can’t help but feel like a part of me is fracturing as one by one by one they leave, as everyone has always left me before, as they will all leave me again. It was a false comfort, those inattentive birds, as they sat like stone for so long, but they were never going to stay. Just like the raven iconically quoted, “Nevermore.”

The wire vibrates as the last blackbird releases its grip, hurtling itself into the cloud-strewn sky like a rocket taking flight. I follow the line as it undulates in a rhythmic pattern, then begins to slow down the longer the birds are gone, until it stops completely, as if the winged creatures were never there.

I open my eyes and realize they weren’t.

Sam

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“It’s hard for me to make black friends.”

11965720-friend-friendship-relationship-teammate-teamwork-society-icon-sign-symbol-pictogramI saw this on my Facebook newsfeed today, but it’s always been just as true for me. For those of you who don’t know me, who are reading my blog for the first time, I am black. I say this because I think it matters in the framework of the above quote. A white guy said this on my Facebook newsfeed, but it’s just as true for me.

I grew up in an entirely black neighborhood, I was a member of an entirely black church, and I went to an entirely black elementary school, but that didn’t make it any easier to find black friends. There were many black people around, so I had many black acquaintances, yet I didn’t really get close to anyone. It may have been some combination of my initial shyness, my lack of common ground with them, and/or my low opinion of myself.

Or it could just be that too many black people are too familiar with too many other black people without really knowing them. That has always been a pet peeve of mine. I would love to get to know you, but when you assume that you already know everything you need to know about me I bristle. Maybe it’s just because I’ve never felt normal, whatever that means, so I hate assumptions of normality.

But I shouldn’t generalize, right? As I very much know, not all black people are the same, even if the culture calls for over-familiarization when it comes to other black people. Getting through the initial assumptions, though, they’re tough, especially when the over-arching societal structures don’t allow for getting beneath the surface when you meet someone new.

Besides that, I don’t meet very many black people these days, which makes it that much harder to make black friends. I made the decision to live where I do, to work where I work, and to be where I am, so that’s partially a byproduct of those decisions, but I have to be honest. Even if I met a slew of black people every day, what are the odds that some of them would be my friends?

It’s hard for me to make black friends, even though I’m black. Maybe even because I’m black. But I guess it’s hardest for me to make black friends because for me people are people, because it was difficult for me to even put the term “black” in front of so many nouns in this post. It’s hard for me to make friends, period, which is okay. I’m an excellent friend once you get to know me, once you get to trust me, but not many take that opportunity.

Which is okay, because I hear that quality of friends is so much more important than quantity of friends, no matter their color.

Sam

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neededThere have been very few times in my life when I truly felt like a part of something, like I was intrinsically involved in the inner workings of a cause, a movement, or even a group of people. I have always been a catalyst, for sure, because of my boisterous personality, but what has that done for me when it comes to feeling necessary?

Others often look to sports as a way to feel a part of something, as a means to an end, but even on that front I was always lacking. For some reason I always chose the sports that weren’t really a team concept, like tennis, and golf, and I left the group mentality to those who needed the push and pull. But I need the push and pull too. I guess I just didn’t realize it back then.

As I’ve gotten older it’s been about friends for me. Maybe I just wasn’t meant to be the friend type in this society because for me to feel like a part of a friendship I need a lot of contact. So, of course most of my friends throughout the years have always been the type who aren’t contact people. I seem to attract the type of friends who are content with sporadic communication, and that’s not me.

Even my sister was an enigma to me. For years I was jealous of her, which hampered our relationship. It always seemed like she made friends easily, the type who were there for her early and often. It always seemed like she had it all down, that people flocked to her without her even trying, that she was an integral part of the world she inhabited. I was jealous that it wasn’t me, that I didn’t have whatever she had to make myself necessary to others.

But it’s not about her. And it’s not about the friends I chose to surround myself with off and on for years. It’s really about me and my expectations. When I think about the times when I felt like a part of something I inevitably go back to my poetry groups, to the first one in Philly so long ago, and to the one in Utica now. For some reason, even though poetry isn’t my first love when it comes to writing, it brings something out of me that makes me feel necessary, like I’m a part of something so much bigger than myself.

I expected nothing from either poetry group, and they gave me everything. Funny how that happens. And I wonder if that’s how I should be when it comes to other situations and with other people in my life. Maybe I should stop beating myself up over lost friends, or over time between conversations. Perhaps I should instead spend my time getting rid of expectations, just living for the moment and seeing who comes along for the ride.

That’s a very renaissance kind of attitude for me, but I’m feeling a renaissance kind of feeling right now, so it fits. I feel like approaching 40 is making me see things in a completely different way than I ever have before. If I want to be a part of something I need to let it happen organically, to just explore my interests and let things come to me. And stop blaming others for not fulfilling that need.

Because it’s all up to me, and it always has been.

Sam

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heathrow-airport-terminal-5“I’ll sit anywhere,” she told the airline attendant behind the counter whose name tag read Patrick. It was 3 o’clock in the morning, London time, and Heather was surviving on fumes by that point, in a race against time trying to make her way back to Chicago.

“Listen, I missed my flight, but it wasn’t my fault,” pleaded the desperate woman.

Patrick looked up from the monitor embedded just below the surface of the counter as Heather strained to look down at the plane schedules he had pulled up. He had frosted tips, the type that she would have laughed out loud at if he were one of her closest friends, but at that moment he was her best hope so she stayed silent.

“Ma’am,” he said, in an impeccable British accent. “I don’t doubt that, but we have no flights available until 6:30, and that would be standby.”

“But I need to be in Chicago, like, yesterday,” she begged, stopping just short of getting on her knees. She adjusted her cleavage, hoping that might change things, but his eyes were on her own. It figured.

“Then might I suggest calling whomever you’re supposed to be meeting there and letting them know you will be a tad late,” said the ever helpful Patrick, smiling sardonically at her.

“It’s not like that,” Heather said, all pretense of begging gone. She was an executive, and used to getting her way. She wasn’t going to let some, some pencil pusher tell her she couldn’t get it done. “Look, I’ll pay you for whatever you can get done for me.”

“We don’t accept tit for tat,” said Patrick with a straight face, indicating with his index finger the security cameras trained on them. “It’s strictly against the law. But I can place you standby for the 6:30 and you can keep your fingers crossed.”

She walked away after giving him her name and cell phone number, feeling like an ironic mirror of herself, a meek version of who she hoped she would never be. But it was so much more than that, she finally admitted to herself, knowing that if she couldn’t tell herself the truth she would never be able to trust anyone else with it. She felt like a total failure not just because she missed her flight, but because she wouldn’t make it to such a significant event — again.

Jordan had called her on Monday and made her promise she would come, that she would be there for the most important day in his life, knowing how crazy her own life was and what it would mean if she said yes. But she had said yes anyway, because she was weaker than the facade she put on every single day, and for the simple fact that it was him asking. She had never gotten over Jordan, even with an entire ocean and five years between them. Yet she said yes, as if he were asking her to coffee to catch up, not to his impending nuptials.

“I can’t imagine my special day without you there,” he’d said, not knowing how it made her catch her breath, not realizing it tore her up inside. Still.

“But won’t it be awkward, Jordan?” she replied through slightly gritted teeth. “I mean, we almost got married.”

“Which was ages ago, and you’re still my best friend,” he had said, dismissing her fears like so much garbage. “You are my best friend, right?”

“Shouldn’t your fiance be your best friend, Jordan?” she asked, knowing his answer before the pause, before the exhale, even before she asked the question.

“You know it’s always been different with us,” he’d said. “And Shae understands that. She’s the one who asked me to invite you, that it wouldn’t be the same without you.”

And Heather had sighed then because he knew he wasn’t lying, that Shae had such a pure heart that she would want whatever Jordan wanted. But they were both such idiots, really, that they couldn’t see what was right in front of their faces, what was between them as surely as a hedge separating private lawns. Because she was balanced on that hedge, ready to spring onto the green grass on the other side, regardless of who it hurt.

“Okay,” she had said, half expecting cheers from the other end of the connection, but he just gave her the details and signed off, as if it had been a foregone conclusion the whole time, like the call had been a matter of course. She felt bruised in that moment, a peach that wasn’t quite ripe enough to taste good in the peeling, but at the same time she felt a rush of elation. She was going to see Jordan again, after five years of phone calls and dodging his requests to visit.

But she sighed again as she wheeled her carry-on across the tiled walkway of Heathrow, Terminal B. Even if she managed to get on the 6:30 flight there was no way she could make it to the reception hall to catch the ceremony, and only a thin wisp of a chance she could get to the reception. And if she missed that flight she would arrive too late for any of it. She knew she should call Jordan, that she should let him know she would indeed miss his special day, but she was too afraid to dial his number.

She imagined he would sound magnanimous, that he would say it wouldn’t be the same without her, that he would be sad over the situation. In that way the phone call would only serve to make her feel better, but she knew she deserved to feel as bad as she possibly could, because of the reason she had been late. The night before she had taken out all of their pictures, all of the photos that had chronicled their friendship since high school, every album she had created in secret, knowing how it would look to others. And she had allowed herself to cry the tears she had held in since her move to London.

Soon the vodka had come out, and then all pretense was lost as she drank her sorrows away, tears fat and heavy, falling onto the photos she had fought so hard to preserve. But she hadn’t been able to stop herself, because his marrying Shae was the final nail in the coffin of what could have been for the two of them, one last arrow to her heart from the man who said he would love her forever. It just wasn’t the kind of love she wanted from him, which made all the difference.

“Now boarding — 3:40. Flight 269 to New York City. Terminal C,” came the smooth voice over the intercom, breaking up the sound of the muzak that had been the soundtrack for Heather’s melancholy mood. She sat down on one of the unyielding black plastic chairs across from the news stand that somehow seemed to her melancholy as well, deciding whether staying would accomplish anything of merit.

“Now boarding — 3:40. Flight 269 to New York City. Terminal C,” said the voice again, and something tumbled around in her mind, finally settling into place with a snap, breaking her from her self-imposed torture. It was time to really move on. There was a reason she had missed her flight, and it had nothing to do with Jordan. It had everything to do with her, with her own opinions of herself, how she had said she wanted to move on, but had done nothing besides avoid the situation. It had changed nothing. London had changed absolutely nothing.

So she got up out of her seat, even though she had just sat down, and headed for Terminal C as fast as her legs could carry her, Patrick’s eyes on her the whole way until she turned the corner and joined with the crowd of people in the tunnel between terminals, hustling from one place to another just as she was. A smile crept its way onto her face as she realized what she had to do to change her life for the better, and sitting in an uncomfortable chair at Heathrow wasn’t the answer.

The loudspeaker came on once more, but she had stopped listening by that point, on her way past Terminal C to the exit, to the double doors that led to a freedom she hadn’t recognized was owed her. It was time to get rid of those pictures for good, she thought to herself, her mind racing, to block his number from her phone, to make a clean break once and for all. It wasn’t healthy for him, for Shae, and most definitely not for her at all, and she had to be the one who was strong, who severed the rotting limb before it took over everything.

Heather easily melted into the group of newly arrived passengers heading out into the rising sun of what had the potential to be a brilliant London day, and she smiled for the first time in a long time. Chicago could wait. Forever.

Sam

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“Come on don’t leave me like this. I thought I had you figured out. Can’t breathe whenever you’re gone. Can’t turn back. Now I’m haunted.” ~Taylor Swift

394245_315552211813007_315184498516445_1054979_1253620114_nWhy am I haunted by the ghosts of friends gone by? I know what my therapist would say. There was no closure. I never got the answers, the reasons why, and that bothers me to my very core. I am haunted by the ghosts of friends gone by because they decided I wasn’t worthy enough to get an answer, or a reason why. And that sucks.

I’ll admit right off the top that I’ve never felt adequate. I’ve never felt that I was worth time and effort from other human beings, and I have absolutely no idea where that came from. My mother gave me all kinds of attention and validation when I was a child, so it wasn’t that whole nurture thing. I’m thinking maybe it’s just in my nature, that it’s always been in my nature, some hidden part of my brain that is driving me in this direction.

And maybe it’s also the kinds of friends I’ve picked up along the way, now that I think about it. I tend to gravitate towards those people with big personalities, or the “misfits” who are deep and introspective. But those kinds of people aren’t the ones who keep in touch. They’re more interested in doing a plethora of things, and if I fit into their plans, great, but if I don’t then I won’t hear from them.

It’s uncanny how that happens too, because even when I think I’ve found someone who can be there for me when I need them they somehow disappear. And when they show up again it’s way too late, and then I carry around this disappointment like an anchor around my neck that colors how I treat them then. I hate that about me, but I don’t know how to fix it other than to get friends who are actually there for me when I need them, not when it’s convenient for them.

I understand being busy. I am busy as well. But I’ve always believed that people make time for the things and the people who are important to them. I make time for my friends, even if it’s a small piece of time wrapped around things I have to do, but it’s difficult to get my friends to take time out of their schedules for me. I have to admit that maybe I’m to blame for that. Maybe I’m just not special enough, not in that top tier of friends who warrant time being spent to just send a quick text, or a quick email… or anything.

So when the few and far between calls or texts are disappointing to me I try to rationalize them to keep from feeling like it’s me. I say that my friend must be busy, that they’ll get back to me when they can. And I wait. Then, after an interminable period of time (sometimes a week or more), they reemerge from wherever they’ve been with a text or a call that isn’t apologetic but picks up where they left off as if they weren’t gone.

I don’t know how to handle that, so I internalize my feelings, I withdraw from the friendship so that I’m not so torn apart when it inevitably ends. I get torn apart anyway because not once has someone told me before they disappear that they’re going to disappear and why they’re going to disappear. I have never gotten an explanation so my brain goes to dark places when yet another one leaves without a word, without a whisper, without anything to give me that closure I need.

It’s almost enough to make me say that friendships aren’t worth it, but then I look at other people who seem to have good, solid friends who are always there for them when they need them to be, who don’t fade into the ether like the phantoms I call or called my friends. And don’t get me wrong. My wife is incredible, the single most impressive person I’ve ever known, but I need a support group that doesn’t stop and end with her. I need the same kind of network that she has, those people she can count on aside from me.

I try not to be jealous of her, but while she has those who have been there for her the entirety of her life, I am still waiting to hear back from those who say I’m their friend. And no, a Facebook “like” doesn’t count as a response. Maybe if I ever got some closure from friends gone by I wouldn’t be so pessimistic about what the future holds in that regard.

Sam

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imageWhy is it that some people stick around long after they’re gone? How do I find myself wasting my time thinking of them when they’re obviously not thinking of me? And I know they’re gone. I know they’re not coming back. I know all of that, but I still can’t help thinking — wishing — that they will show up around the next corner any minute now and everything will be just the way it was. Why do I waste time deluding myself?

I had a friend once who I used to talk to every single day, like clockwork. I knew her number better than I knew my own. In fact, I still know it even though we haven’t spoken in two years. At first it was gradual. She was busy, so I was patient, and instead of talking every day it slipped to once a week, then once every couple of weeks, then once a month, until it was really just me having a friendship with her voicemail.

And I know I haven’t had the greatest track record with friends. Most of mine are the kind who don’t feel the need to be in constant contact, or even in intermittent contact. Most of mine are the kind who get back to me when they eventually get around to it, while I’m the kind to respond right away. Maybe I’m too needy, and it gets draining. I don’t know, but it’s not for lack of trying to figure it out.

In the meantime, though,these ghosts just keep adding up, dropping out of my life as if they were never there, even if they played a major role, sometimes for years at a time. And I guess I don’t know when to give up because I keep expecting them to reappear, to have some plausible excuse for not contacting me for a year, or two years, like they were in a coma or something. Then in my Disney-addled brain we would pick up where we left off.

But that’s not the way the world works, not the way things have gone for me. Because these are solid patterns now, not just random friend after random friend. So it must be me, right? It must be my own issues that they are reacting to, that they can’t handle, and they feel like they can’t talk to me about it so they fade into the background until they eventually disappear completely from my life.

Yet their ghosts remain, the memories of what they used to be to me, of how they used to make me feel, of all the times we spent together. I can’t block them out. I can’t toss all of that away like they seem to have been able to do. So I do what I can to try and move on. I delete their information from my phone’s contacts list. I focus on the things I do have some say in, like writing about it as some kind of catharsis.

Let me know when it’s supposed to get easier.

Sam

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