Is it time to rake your ‘friendship yard’?
By Tom Poland
“But like Conrad’s shipmates on the Narcissus, I never saw any of them again.” James Salter closes his essay, “A Single Daring Act,” with that line about the end of his fighter pilot days in Korea. He was referring to the wingmen and pilots who depended on one another to stay alive. Once done with Korea he heard a familiar name now and then but he didn’t hear from those who had been allies, close friends. Survivors. Here in this wretched year when not even football matters, in a time when fear stalks many, nothing seems any good. Family trips and holiday dinners are being canceled. Just about all is ruined. And that includes relationships. I’m hearing of an uptick in divorces, of men and women drifting apart. Being in lockdown with a mate can be stressful. It exposes cracks in the foundation. Seems to me as well that people have holed up and turned incommunicado, and it makes me think. Why don’t friends do a better job of staying in touch? It’s not that difficult. We have cellphones, e-mail, and even letters, which I get from readers mainly, and it feels good to open a letter and read honest sentiment scripted out the old-fashioned way. But sure as the setting sun, people fade away. I have left workplaces where I made close friends, but looking back they were temporary friends, seasonal. Time separated us. Friends downgraded into acquaintances and like leaves, they lasted just so long, a season you could say. Many people blow through our lives but just how many become true friends? Not many as a test five paragraphs later will reveal. In my younger years I ran with a pack. We were cool. We were foolish too. I see young folks doing the same thing. It’s expected of them but time winnows the chaff from the grain, and they’ll drift apart. Friends and true friends are different species. A true friend makes time to see you. Well, in this wretched year of avoidance people aren’t exactly mixing it up, but a true friend would make time to call you, right? Right? Maybe I am off the mark here. Maybe not. People are like leaves. They come in many colors, shapes, and sizes. Deciduous leaves turn colorful come autumn. How nice, for a while, to count these flashy leaves as friends. Dull, consistent evergreens stand the test of time. Maybe some friends ran their rake already and judged me as a dry, brown sycamore or maple leaf or worse, a sweetgum. Maybe they bagged me up and tossed me onto the curb. It happens. People who divorce often become total strangers, as if neither ever existed. A rake — what a useful tool. When I taught feature writing at the University of South Carolina College of Information and Communications I advised students to run a “word” rake through their assignments. Without fail many words did not merit inclusion. They were empty, signifying nothing, and they took up space. Dead weight. It just wasn’t “writerly.” Well, now and then you have to rake your friendship yard. Some fallen leaves need to be removed. They say you can count your true friends on one hand. That’s right, and if you don’t believe me try this sobering test should you choose burial. Who will be your pallbearers? You’ll find the list is short. Very short.