My father-in-law was my friend.
When we’d get together, two or three times a year, here’s how it would go:
Two lawn chairs. Or a rickety, rusted swing. Maybe a beer or three. We would begin with the usual. Family. Work. Weather. Whatever. Things were generally good. And then we would just sit there. Wait. Wait some more. Drink. And then I’d bring up some off-the-wall thing I’d read about or seen on the news or read in the paper. Usually, it would be something that I knew we would disagree about. Maybe some politician or a new law or this or that thing that would breed discussion. He would raise his voice, but not too much. He would slap his knee and laugh or let out an exasperated sigh. Do that thing where he acted like he wanted to say something, but instead shake his head and give me a sideways glance. I’d play the devil’s advocate and interrupt him, just to get a rise. Then he’d get louder. Spout some crazy nonsense that always seemed to make complete sense. I’d berate him about things can’t be so black and white. So cut and dried. Layers, man. Facets of a thing are where the details are, I’d say. Look at all sides.
It was a riot. And could go on for hours. Just two guys sitting there shooting the shit.
When he passed, I took the time to visit another friend. Back in the days when we hung out regularly, we could argue to beat the band. About creation. Science vs. Religion. Women in the workplace. The workplace in general. The Vikings. You name it, we could debate it. He was always right, of course. He’d hang his head and say things like, “But, Brian?! How can you be so naïve?!” He’d pull out obscure books and read paragraphs to me that made me laugh out loud. I’d tell him about the facets and the greys but he wouldn’t have any of it. I was bitter, he’d say. Unlike my father-in-law, he loves to talk. Ramble, really. So I just sit and listen and nod occasionally. Let him speak his mind. Eventually, he stops, I say something to lighten the mood, and we laugh. And then we just sit there. When we see each other these days, face to face, it’s only because one of us has driven a great distance. I wonder if I’ll ever see him again; the things that bring us together are disappearing. But the doors are open.
I love him like a brother. We call each other that, like they used to do in church. Brother Blaine. Brother Brian. But I love him beyond all that. He’s a true friend.
Maybe this is what I was getting at yesterday. For me, a friend is someone with whom you can enjoy the silence. The just sitting there and letting what happens . . . happen. The way a person reacts to what happens. Do they have twitches? Do they sigh a lot or wave their hands in the air? Do they laugh from the gut or is it a windy, shallow thing? Do they hate the way everything is a thing with me, and how I say “the thing is” a lot?
Online, there is no silence. Sure, there are times when we post less. Update infrequently. Take a break. But I can’t watch you in your silence. See you squirm at the lack of words. Watch you process your thoughts. I know it’s not the same thing, because between posts, you’re busy living. Time is passing in greater chunks. Things are happening, to be sure.
It’s just the little, shorter, silences I miss. Maybe you stir your coffee as you sit there. Or twirl your food on your plate. Or stare at the lights or the stars or the cars driving by. In those moments, you get a feel for someone. In those moments are the things that make you. Define you. Leave an impression on others. At least on those of us that take the time to notice your silence and revel in the you that patiently waits.
I guess I’m wired differently, for I believe that true friendship doesn’t lie in the content of our interactions but in the quality of them. I like seeing what others don’t. Letting time pass in your company that isn’t always crammed with stuff to talk about or do. This takes proximity, presence, things that are void in friendships that develop online.
This morning, as I wrote this, my neighbor had some friends over. As I sat and watched the world around me wake up, they loaded trucks for a hunting trip, laughing out loud at times, quiet and hauling stuff in others. I waved and they waved back. Petting my dogs that kept wandering their way to smell and pee on their truck tires.
I know that all friendships aren’t like this. I’ve made some great friends online. Yes, friends. We share stuff that moves me deeply, and I am grateful for each and every one of you. I just wish you were closer. Had more time. Enjoyed pancakes and laughter and a not-so-clean house where you’d be welcomed with open arms and a beverage of your choice. Where you and I could sit and enjoy the silence . . .