Finding The Present

Three days after returning home my brain is still fuzzy. Jet lagged. My circadian rhythm not quite normal following my trip to Seattle. Even in my youth I did not travel well. At this age it is even worse. With all that, if I could afford to buy a place on Vashon Island for the summer and live in my South Carolina home in the winter, I would do it. Oh, I wouldn’t want to live in Seattle, but the island where my host lives is a different story.

My view from Vashon Island

My view from Vashon Island

Vashon hasn’t changed much from when I lived in Seattle thirty years ago. Still a tiny farm community sitting in Puget Sound, the only way to get there is by sea. The ferry takes a scant twenty minutes, transporting me from the busy, noisy area of West Seattle to the quiet hills and beaches of Vashon where eagles soar, osprey hunt, otters and seal frolic in the cold water and with luck, a few Dungeness crabs can be caught for dinner.

As I wrote in an earlier post I returned to Seattle to reconnect with my past self. Searching for my authentic self under the layers of identities assumed during a lifetime, I sought the emotional remembrance of who I was then. That person is gone, however, never to be retrieved, only remembered and celebrated with longtime friends. While our lives intertwined for a moment, and in many ways we remain the same, all of us have grown and changed. We enjoy a camaraderie built on shared memories.

I flew into SeaTac with the idea of visiting my former home, old workplace and other familiar haunts. My friend’s spouse picked me up at the frenetic airport. Driving through the streets of West Seattle to the ferry, we chatted about my flight and visit. Then, we slipped onto the ferry. By the time we disembarked onto Vashon Island, I knew I didn’t want to see any of the past places, only the people.

The entrance to Pike Place Market

The entrance to Pike Place Market

Idyllic Vashon reminds me of where I live now, a country life by choice. It also speaks to me of who I am now, my authentic self, with longtime friends enriching my life. And, hopefully, I enrich theirs. Our youthful shared experiences brought us together. It is the glue that holds us in sync, in time.

My host and I drove into Seattle just once. After all, I did have to see the teeming Pike Place Market. There at Cutters restaurant we met with other friends.  We talked about the past and the present and the future.  We caught up on our lives — work, spouses, children, dreams.  We clinked glasses in a ‘Salute’.  And I know now, it is they, not the place, holding the emotional sway.

In the end, the person I found on this excursion is my present self, the only self that matters now.

If You Want To Live Long, Have Friends

The winding river of friendship

The winding river of friendship

On Thursday this week I met my friend, Paulette at her house. We were going to Asheville for the day. While we made a tour of her gardens so her papillon, Puck, could take a bathroom break before our departure, we chatted about the plants. Garden lovers both, we easily slip into harmony over the subject no matter where we are.

After settling Puck for the day, Paulette winded us through the twisting curves of the Blue Ridge foothills up Route 9 past Lake Lure, through Chimney Rock and Black Mountain to Asheville. We talked about the scenery, the towns, the unusual story of Lake Lure, family, our writing and art, classes we’re taking and anything else that came to mind. It was a beautiful day in one of the most beautiful areas of the country and we enjoyed the lazy drive, seeing few other cars, as well as each other’s company.

Last week I wrote a paragraph or two about the Rochester University Medical Center findings on the health benefits of friendship. Intrigued by the idea that friends can add not only enjoyment to your life but also longevity, I decided to write this week’s post on friendship. While the importance of having friends and strong social ties is recognized as a health benefit, it is the why and how of the causation which apparently needs more research. But, we do know that having friends leads to a longer life.

Over the last two weeks, I’ve met with several friends, some only my friends, some other couples Martin and I both enjoy spending time with. Some are long time friends I’ve known for years. Others are recently or still developing friendships. Unlike family, which comes as part of the package of birth or marriage, friends are chosen by you and by them. But, friendships don’t just happen. They take time and effort. Yes, effort.

Recently, a longtime friend of Martin’s, moved to South Carolina. Still a few hours away, he flew his small plane into a local airfield where we picked him up for a visit at our house. Although we hadn’t seen him in nearly thirty-four years, we talked easily, the years melting away. We lived our lives hundreds of miles and many states apart. But, we’d kept in touch over the years, continuing to nurture the original friendship, making the effort. Happenstance has brought us together again with the effort paying dividends.

As I’ve aged, I’ve found I have fewer friends. It’s less about quantity and more about quality. When I was younger and in school, there were school friends. Then, when I was working, there were work friendships. When my daughters were in school, there were friendships with parents of my kids’ friends. I had a lot of friends. And, I still have friends from those days, the quality friendships that lasted. These friendships were built on other commonalities as well _ a shared sense of humor, similar political, moral, ethical and spiritual views, hobbies or activities and lifestyles.

Aside from someone to spend time with, friends validate us, our lifestyle, beliefs, activities. Most of my friends also write or garden or do some type of art, drawing or painting. Some do all three, which makes for a deeper friendship _ all the more to talk about. And, talking is important. It’s how we get to know each other on a deeper level. It’s how we form an intense connection resulting in friendship.

Friends are not just acquaintances. I know a woman who uses the term loosely, referring to everyone she meets as a friend. Chatting at the grocery store with the clerk checking you out does not a friendship make. I was once in a situation where someone with whom I was doing business over the phone called me her friend during many discussions. I had never met this woman. Even when we finally did meet, we finished our business arrangement, and I never saw her again. I was her client, not her friend.

Friends are people you spend time with, a lot of time. Friends are people with whom you have much in common. Friends are people who validate you, support you and make your life enjoyable. Friends are your confidante as well as giving you a feeling of confidence. Friends are not ships passing in the night. They are the ones who pull into the harbor with you and moor there for a long while. There is a bond, perhaps for life, a longer life.