Thursday, January 3, 2013

Empty Spaces

A couple of months ago I found out that a friend of mine from grade school died.  Sadder still, I found out that he died a few years ago and I had not heard.  From grades 3-8 we were very close friends.  In fact I remember that for my 9th birthday party I could only invite one friend, and it was him.  I liked him quite a bit.  He was shy, like me.  But he was also a gentle soul; he was an incredibly nice and thoughtful person.

But after we left junior high we went to different high schools and we lost contact.  I saw him only once more right before I graduated high school.  We bumped into each other at an amusement park.  He was smoking on a cigarette, cussing, and hanging out with his girlfriend, all of which seemed impossible for me to picture of his junior high self.  We exchanged pleasantries for the sake of our old friendship, but he quickly moved on.

I never saw him again.

When I found out he died it filled me with sadness for a whole host of reasons.  But one of them was the realization that he had not entered my thoughts in years.  While he was alive he was far from my thoughts.  Now that he is gone, memories of him linger.

It makes me think about all those friends who have left our lives for one reason or another.  Some sadly cross the threshold into the next life like my friend.  But even before that I had lost him by geography.  Those we call friends almost always pop up to us because of their proximity.

Do you remember what it was like to make friends when you were very young?  If someone lived next to you or sat next to you in class or hanged next to you on the monkey bars you would consider them your friend.  In kindergarten I didn't know anyone.  But one day after the pledge of allegiance one of the kids in the front line (they lined us up single file to say the pledge) turned around.  I have him a big thumbs up and a smile, which he returned.  From that day until I was kicked out of that kindergarten we were friends (as to why I was kicked out, it is a long, strange story that involved scissors and having my IQ tested).

But back to my original point, geography can make or break a friendship.  We sit at the same lunch table so we can share not only our space but our thoughts.  Distance does not have to be a killer, but it can be if you stop sharing the same mental space.  Friendship takes place completely in the mind.  Steady communication helps solidify those bonds.  If our lives become too distant, then we find that we have nothing more to say to each other because our mental worlds are too far apart.

This is not always the case.  We all have those friends that circumstance has set apart from us.  But when we meet it feels as though no time has past.  That is a rare gift, one that should not be taken for granted.  Constantly my friends and I do what we can to give our time to each other at weekly dinners, game nights, and Halo sessions.

My wife and I both had the flu New Year's Eve and could not be with our friends, so we spoke through FaceTime.  It may sound silly since I'll probably see them soon, but it was important to me because I need to let my friends know that they are important.  They mean the world to me.

And that is why I am always sad when friendships end, especially the ones that simply fade away.  There are some friends that we have that, not through fighting or distance, eventually drift away from us.  No harsh words are spoken, but the hot fire of friendship cools into an uncomfortable apathy.

This is natural as we grow and our lives change, especially when we are young and don't know who we are or what we are called to be.  I am always struck by how teenagers in my school profess their unending loyalty and friendship to people who in all likelihood they will not be speaking to in 4 years.  But their lives go through such rapid change emotionally, geographically, physically, socially, spiritually, that it makes sense that two lives no longer connect in the same way.

But there are times when those friendships shouldn't end but they do because we don't work at them.  We don't take the time to return that phone call or that email.  We think that our friend will always be there when we look for them.

And then they're gone.

But regardless of how the friendship ends, there is still an absence.  To call someone a friend, a real friend, is to set aside room in your heart for them.  And since each friend is unique, no one space can be given to another.  They will always occupy a certain part of your life.

And when they leave, that space remains empty.  Our hearts can still be filled with others, but that space remains hollow.  And each friend that leaves our lives creates a similar pocket so that our hearts are textured with these scars.

That is why it is sad to lose friends, even ones you haven't seen since your senior year of high school.  But I don't think those scars are all bad.  In fact, I think that I would rather have my heart filled with those empty spaces than not.  Because it means that even though they are no longer around, those people made a big enough impression on my life that their absence is felt, their presence is missed.

To me, at least, they mattered.

So let us resolve to hold on to the friends we have now, to do our best to keep them in our lives.

And let us remember the empty spaces in our hearts where old, dear friends once lived.

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