Disneyland for History Nerds

I adore History.  In grade school, I loved hearing stories from different periods.  In college, I once became so engrossed in a lecture about the Roman Empire that I forgot to take notes until halfway through the hour, which I think pleased the professor.  Now, I still love losing myself in stories of the past.  But there’s a catch with reading or hearing or watching stories of history – you lose some of the tangible.  Interpretation creeps in, and distance. It becomes easy to disconnect these stories from reality and make them just like all the fictional stories you encounter.

That’s why, this last summer, I so enjoyed Disneyland for History Nerds – Gettysburg.

My family originally went to Gettysburg for the 125th anniversary.   My brother, who was three at the time, understandably didn’t get much out of it.  His memories are fabricated from our stories.  (One in particular involves my dad carrying me across a small stream, followed by my mom attempting to do the same with my brother.  They didn’t cross without a fall and a soak, and my dad and I were not capable of not laughing hysterically.  We have also not been capable of not bringing this up for the past 25 years.)  My memory – freakish thing – served me quite a bit better.  I remembered climbing rocks, hiking up wooded hills, staring at reenactors as my mom got her birthday picture taken with them, and falling in love with any 7-year-old girl’s favorite – the horse statues.

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So, going back this summer for the 150th Battle of Gettysburg Anniversary was like revisiting a bit of our own family history as well.  This added, I think, to the overall note of reflection and made it interestingly personal.  We made a point of reproducing several of the pictures we’d taken 25 years ago.  We tracked down all the Michigan monuments, and we encountered others doing the same, further adding to “bonding-with-nerds time.”  There was a wonderful sense of brotherhood, of being connected to this momentous piece of our nation’s history, however tangentially.

There were few things about this trip down memory lane that were not moving.  Not only did we interact with this historical place, but we interacted with others doing the same.  History nerds united in a common setting, knowledge, and reverence are a wonderful bunch.  At Custer’s monument, which is out in a field and you’d never know unless you were looking, we encountered a chap from New Jersey who would have chatted enthusiastically for hours with my dad while my mom and I ate bananas in the car and nursed our sore feet.  At the gigantic Pennsylvania monument, I helped a woman scan down the list of the dead to find a relative.  Even the park staff drove around and handed out water bottles to us hikers (like THAT would ever happen at the real Disneyland).  Everyone was just…happy to be a part of remembering.

The thing I will remember most was reenacting Pickett’s Charge with thousands of other tourists and meticulously dressed reenactors.  It was truly one of the most moving experiences of my life, and I sensed the same was true for those around me as we walked in the footsteps of those who’d sweat, stumbled, bled, and mostly died on that deceptively beautiful field.

And that’s another thing – North and South, everyone respected everyone.  Not just tourist to tourist, although I saw Union and Confederate reenactors swapping family stories, which was oddly heartwarming.  The thing that really struck me was that at the time both sides respected each other.  This was a family war.  Sometimes literally brother vs. brother.  Plaque after plaque held quotes expressing one side’s admiration for the other.  Standing on both ends of Pickett’s Charge, you couldn’t help but imagine looking out and feeling the ache of what they were about to do.  Both sides were us.

It was interesting talking to tourists who were not “us” and hearing their somewhat objective takes on “our only real war.”  We encountered people from England, Japan, Scotland – all places with far more history than our baby country.  One English woman I heard saying that it was amazing to her to see how fresh our history was.  “You still have the original trees!”


Anyway, this all-around closeness, I think, is what makes it all so powerful to actually be there.  You can’t disconnect and consider this just ancient history when you’re actually standing on those fields.  It was not that long ago.  And what happened in our bloody little war was so rough because it was all us.  Everywhere you go in Gettysburg, you read and see and hear stories that make you sympathize with both camps.  Looking down from Little Round Top – which has been carefully preserved so that it feels like you’re back in time…but with cameras – I’m sure I was only one of thousands who got choked up imagining the slaughter that took place there.  Touching history in this way, with thousands of other co-admirers, it stops being just some story, some dates on a page.  This place helped shape our nation.  It changed us.  United us, eventually.  And now, being there, you can’t help feel the weight of it.  You can’t help feel close to it, and the dead.

I’m sure there’s some lesson I took away from all this.  Something about connecting with and touching bits of history to fully appreciate it, certainly.  Something about pulling yourself out of your own head and trying to sympathize with your enemy, certainly.  Whatever lessons I came away from Gettysburg with, it was a wonderful opportunity to experience this with my family once again, relive a bit of our own history, and share in the experience with thousands of other history nerds.  This time around, I definitely appreciated more than just the horse statues.

Top 25 Favorite Books List


Recently I was faced with an interview question of “If you’re stuck on an island, what three books do you have to have with you?”  I brought this up with a group of friends, and of course we wondered about all kinds of qualifiers – are you ever going to see people again, does a collection/series count as one selection, is there wi-fi on this island, etc.  It’s a toughy.  One of my friends and I agreed on a bigger problem, however – we don’t reread books. 

And that is making my New Year’s Resolution very difficult to stay committed to.  Back in (okay, I was late) February, I decided that I would reread my top 25 favorite books to see if they still meant as much to me now as they did when I first read them.  As of this moment, I have about 8 left to go.  And it’s killing me.  Not because I’m finding I don’t love them after all, but because I just do not enjoy rereading books.  I have a freakish memory anyway, and so rarely am I finding that I’ve forgotten anything about these stories.  I don’t get much new out of them.  And so, as I’m reading, I’m finding myself glaring at the pages yet to go in my right hand and just wishing to be done.  Which is bad, because I do love these books.  Rereading is proving to me that I kind of wish I could just hold onto my memories from the first time I read them – my initial loves, surprises, fascination, etc.

However, so far there is one book from my Top 25 List that I’ve discovered does NOT mean as much to me now as it originally did, and so I guess this is accomplishing what I originally intended.  “My Name is Asher Lev” is the book I’ve most drifted from loving.  At the time (in college), I got a lot out of the book because it was about an artist trying to break from his familial/religious mold to find his artistic identity.  Now, I just don’t connect with that anymore.  It was a very important book to me during that particular time in my life, but now maybe I’ve just outgrown it.  Odd, considering I reread “Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator” and don’t feel I’ve outgrown that one at all, but whatever.

Fortunately, all of the other books (so far) that I thought were my favorites really are my favorites, so there’s that.  And (again as a lover of lists and checkmarks), I’m finally able to commit to rating these as 5-stars, because now I’m sure.  I’m also sure this is making some of my friends happier, since I used to have a very gymnastic-scoring-eque approach to rating books, proclaiming there’s no such thing as a perfect 10.  But I guess a perfect 5 I can commit to.  Go me.

So, anyway, here’s my Top 25 Favorite Books List:
The Time Quartet (L’Engle)
Jane Eyre (Bronte)
The Complete Stories and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe (Poe)
Twelfth Night (Shakespeare)
Freedom in Exile (Dalai Lama)
The Demon in the Freezer (Preston)
I Was Told There’d Be Cake (Crosley)
Young Kate:  The Remarkable Hepburns… (Andersen)
Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator (Dahl)
The Chronicles of Narnia (Lewis)
Through the Looking Glass (Carroll)
Agent to the Stars (Scalzi)
Pastwatch (Card)
The Dark Tower (King)
The Raw Shark Texts (Hall)
Kane and Abel (Archer)

 Still to read:
The Vampire Lestat (Rice)
Speaker for the Dead (Card)
Shadow of the Hegemon (Card)
Shadow of the Giant (Card)
Dune (Herbert)
A Game of Thrones (Martin)
The Cosmic Trilogy (Lewis)
Possession (Byatt)

My Name is Asher Lev (Potok)

Out of curiosity:
Has anyone else done this?  Does anyone else have this problem when rereading books?

“Summer of Heartbreak”

My brother and I labeled this summer “The Summer of Heartbreak” because so many people we know broke up, got divorced, or just had their hearts pummeled in general.  It’s to the point that I’m so jaded about romantic relationships that even if He-Against-Whom-All-Others-Are-Compared showed up and confessed his undying love, I would probably run in the other direction.

But, on the uncharacteristically optimistic flipside of all this, I also realized, this cooling side of summer, that I have many great relationships in my life which are incredible blessings to me.

I often learn via the compare/contrast method.

I have not always had great friends.  Quite frankly, many of those from school days left me with issues which I’m realizing will probably never go away no matter how many different ways I try to stomp them down. I also seem to have a sign over my head proclaiming, “Tell me your problems.” A depressing pattern has emerged in my friendships were I try to help and end up having the emotional energy sucked out of me without getting much in return.  As my brother put it earlier this summer, “I honestly feel like a lot of it comes down to your not having a whole lot of experience bringing the ‘right’ people into your life ~shrug~  I think most of your training in relationship-building has resulted in… not entirely constructive, long-term-healthy relationships.” One close friend echoed, “How do you keep getting yourself into these friendships?” It’s at least reassuring that it’s not all in my head.

Anyway, all of these awful friendships have been a blessing, in a way.  By comparison, my good friends seem absolutely amazing.  Often when sitting/drinking/laughing/talking with my main group of friends, I find myself thinking, “Huh, I love everyone here.” Or, I’m constantly surprised when my friends do things for me. Or show concern. Or care enough to give me wise counsel.  It’s kind of pathetic but also refreshing to constantly re-remember that I have people who love me.

And not all of these relationships are the same, which is another Autumn-realized blessing.  I tend to want to know everyone as well as possible and be as close as possible to everyone in my life.  But sometimes this can be exhausting and I end up draining myself.  Sometimes I work too hard to make a friendship work – as my brother pointed out, from bad training.  I have to remember that not all relationships are created equal.  I can’t be intimately close with some, because those friendships will not work that way.  I also can’t be anything but intimate with others, because those friendships won’t work if I’m not.  I need to get different things from different people, and I need to give different things to different people.

Fortunately, a great mix of peeps have been thrown into my life:

  • I have a friend I can rely on to talk about Halloween costumes one minute and our deepest personal aches the next.
  • I have a friend who this summer was going through similar “WTF?” friend crap, and we oddly reconnected by getting outside our own situations while simultaneously empathizing with each other.
  • I have a friend who will stay up way past her bedtime and FB Chat me through my crying, knowing me well enough to end on a goofy note:

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  • I have a brother who is also a best friend who knows he can stop by at 12:30 a.m. to talk about his crap because he knows I love him.
  • I have a circle of friends who actually enjoy sports.
  • I have a friend who will text me absolutely incoherent nonsense because it’s common knowledge that I find this amusing.
  • I have a friend who, after 20+ years, will still offer to tell off someone (a stranger to her) who has hurt me.
  • I have friends who are like siblings to me even if we don’t know what’s going on in each other’s lives and we don’t see each other as often as we would like.
  • I have friends who could talk seriously but mostly enjoy comparing notes on TV, movies, and books.
  • I have somewhat-lost friends who still reach out and remind me that I have people in my life who care about me.

 SO.  In all of this, I see the hand of God gently and not so gently turning me to see – through the pain and heartache – the blessings in my life.  I will inevitably get annoyed with my friends and nitpick, but I really did, through this summer, greatly appreciate those who prove that I have relationships that save me.

Bring on Autumn.

30 and Florida


I turn 30 in exactly one week.  Am I freaking out about this?  Yes.  Do I know why?  No.  I know that perfectly normal reasons for freaking out would center around the fact that I’m single and I have no particular career ambitions and no real goals for my life.  That all may be part of it.  I know that I should want to find a guy, get married, have kids, start a family, and have that be the rest of my life.  I think a part of me really does want to want that.  But I’m also not sure I do.  I mean, if I wanted that, wouldn’t I have done SOMETHING about it by now, before I turn 30 and my looks continue to fade?  (I say “continue to fade” because I already have 8 gray hairs…I’m not joking about this as much as I once would have been.)  I also am aware that my life goals of #1 dying alone and #2 finding a briefcase full of money as a retirement plan are not all that funny.  Nor is my backup retirement plan – to try to make money from our plagiarized movies and end up in white-collar jail. 

So, what I’m really freaking out about I think is this – I don’t have any life plan, and I’m passed the point where it is cute and youthful not to have one.  Somewhere along the road (pun sort of intended, and ooh, look, I just found direction for this post), I became a firm believer in “life is a journey, not a destination.”  I like going with the flow, being open to whatever may arise, seizing the little moments.  But, at some point, don’t you have to have some direction?  I’m not even really journeying anymore towards anything – graduating, getting a job, living in my own place.  I’ve met all those life markers.  My car is even paid off.  I’m finally living on my own in a place I love with friends I love nearby but who I don’t have to go home with.  What do I want to DO? Oh, sure, I want to do silly things like swim with sharks and travel to Dubai, but those are little adventures.  What do I want to aim for as bigger pictures?

The intensity of the looming 30 increased when, as I explained to work when I requested time off, “I have to be a bridesmaid in Florida 2 weeks before turning 30.”  How could anyone not pity that request?  At the time, I said it jokingly because turning 30 wasn’t really bothering me.  Then it came time, Miranda and I loaded up the car, and we began the 1,010 mile journey from Michigan to Florida. 

That’s where this whole “life is a journey, not a destination” thing really sunk in.  I have always preferred travelling by car rather than by plane.  I like seeing the gradual change in topography, the change in fauna and flora.  I like feeling the temperature change.  I like getting out along the way and hearing people’s accents differ from place to place.  It’s something akin to tasting your food while you eat it, or something.  I’ve always felt cheated by plane travel because you miss all the flavor of places between takeoff and touchdown.  I don’t care that it takes 10 times longer to drive than fly.  I want the experience of travelling to a place; I don’t like just hopping on a plane and stepping suddenly off into a place.  And I suppose that’s how I feel about life, too.  I want to savor things along the way, notice every moment, see my life changing as I go.  It’s been a good ride, overall.  A lot of – forgive the metaphor – potholes and storms and construction, sure, but I’ve been blessed too.  The journey is what holds interest for me, and that may be why I’ve never settled on a particular destination, a certain goal, an end game.  I like leaving my options open for the best things that come along.  Death, I guess, is all I think of as a final destination.  …But what until then?

Of course, the one big life marker that I have not reached is marriage and family.  Again I say, I know this is something that should matter by the time I’m 30.  And having just returned from being a bridesmaid in Florida, I can safely say that I’ve contemplated this marker more seriously of late.  But, as my love life has been in a coma for some time (again, a long-running joke that I know shouldn’t be funny but I also can’t force myself to take seriously), instead I chose to view my time in Florida as a detour from my journey and the ability to hitchhike in someone else’s for a while.  (Let’s face it, I needed a timeout from freaking out about turning 30.)  It IS great to witness when other people are reaching milestones and making life-altering decisions, and I am not that kind of bridesmaid who pouts because it isn’t happening to her.  Since I hadn’t seen my dear friend Gloria in a while, it was amazing to see how happy she has become and how she’s changed into this little (5’ 2”) adoring person who is completely in love and excited about life to come.  It really was a blessing, and it made me feel very warm and optimistic about life – hers, if not mine.

Here’s how it went.

Basically, it was all extremely great and surprisingly composed of fun, likeable people.  This is not, pessimistically, what M and I had anticipated.  I don’t do Girl Time very well, for starters.  Being a bridesmaid requires cooing and curling irons, neither of which I’m typically good at.  But in I dove.  Fortunately, none of the bridesmaids were girly either.  And the groomsmen were not the highly conservative Southerners we had anticipated; they were actually kinda hilarious.  All in all, it was a fantastic wedding party where everyone – even pessimistic yours truly – was happy and focused on making Gloria and J’s wedding as wonderful as possible. 

Day 1:  M and I got there Wednesday afternoon in plenty of time to relax and enjoy our awesome view of the Gulf before heading to the restaurant for G’s Bach Party.  We were the first ones there, and the hostess took us up to our private balcony/porch area so we could sit at the table and wait for the others.  The waiter (who in earlier days I would have scouted and who was clearly thrilled to be working a Bachelorette Party) showed us the drink menus and pointed out that the “Perfect Margarita” was the strongest drink they had.  I took this as a challenge.  By the time the other three girls (Becky, Mel, and Victoria) arrived, I was in a pleasant enough state to greet these strangers cheerfully.  When Gloria arrived with J’s sisters (Lana and Christa), I’m pretty sure she was only half-surprised by the party.  But she really seemed glad we were all there for her, and it was quite clear that she was really, really happy with J, so that was great to see.  It was in all a pretty nice night, I ate a great burger along with my 4-liquor drink, and we got to know the other bridesmaids at least well enough to know we weren’t going to hate this.

Day 2:  Thursday, the GPS made us late for the rehearsal.  The pastor ran through the plan, and we were herded around like sheep as per the usual prepping for the ceremony.  That’s when we met the other half of the party – the groomsmen.  This was also when we met Julie, Gloria’s other friend from Wisconsin who was quite pregnant and therefore hadn’t been at the Bach Party.  M, as it turned out, got paired up with a cool dude who was great except that he looked like Ray Romano and that was a bit distracting.  My groomsman was not there, so I rehearsed with his very cool sister (Leah).  She imitated her brother pretty well, I would later discover, and assured me that I’d gotten a “good-looking one” and that he would be smiling the whole time.  I turned to Gloria and asked, “You paired me with a peppy person?” to which she responded without a pause, “I put you with someone who could catch you if you fell.”  Not falling, as it turns out, became our biggest challenge as bridesmaids, for the walk down the aisle was entirely downhill and there was a sand-trap obstacle right when we parted from our groomsmen to walk ourselves to our positions.  Even in rehearsal, a few of us had problems.  But, the rehearsal all went pretty well, and since it was freezing (I think it was like 55 that night – thanks for nothing, Florida), we hurried to the restaurant for the rehearsal dinner, which was also lovely.  And, to cap off the evening, M and I back in our hotel appropriately watched Bridesmaids.  It had to be done.

Day 3:  Friday, we got to the park at 8am (the forecast said a high of 60, but that certainly didn’t happen until AFTER the ceremony).  There was the usual tizzy of girls getting ready, but we had over two hours and so things went pretty smoothly despite the fact that the main hair lady had had gallbladder surgery and had to limp around.  Victoria and I were the only ones responsible for our own hair, and we creatively shared a full-length mirror.  A gecko was in the room and almost crawled up Gloria’s wedding dress.  It was during this time that we got a good view into the family Gloria was marrying into, cuz J’s mom was running around helpfully, stopped to coo and kiss Gloria on the forehead as she told her she looked beautiful, and the two sisters were sweet and really helpful.  We took a few quick pics in the room, and then we headed down to sneak out the back to our places.
IT WAS FREEZING!  We northerners had all decided we would tough it out and not wear shawls during the ceremony, but this was not a brilliant move.  I made certain to check – I was not the only girl who was gooseflesh head to toe.  At least we had our respective groomsmen to shield the wind, and they were decent enough to acknowledge that we had the worst of it…even though they complained about their shoes being uncomfortable.  This is when I met my groomsman, Quinn, who turned out to be quite hilarious and kinda awesome.  M, Angel (the Ray Romano look-alike), Quinn, and I huddled for a while and talked about how brave M and I were to live in Michigan.
Finally the music from Forrest Gump (seriously) started, and it was time to hang onto our groomsmen for dear life and head down[hill] the aisle.  By the time I got into position (I was the second to last bridesmaid to arrive) all the other girls had clearly had their own troubles with the sand-trap and watched anxiously as I approached the threshold.  It was quite reassuring when Quinn whispered, “You got this,” just as we arrived, and fortunately I made it over the sand-trap and stood at my place so I could watch Gloria come down the aisle with her dad.  She nearly broke down and cried but pulled it together just as they arrived.  Then the guests were seated, the pastor prayed, yada, yada, you know the drill.  
After the ceremony came pictures.  Again, FREEZING.  But the photographer had some cute ideas, and everyone was so easy-going that it was a lot of fun.  Then we loaded into cars to go to the beach for pics, and mercifully it warmed up considerably. The beach was wonderful.  While Gloria and J had couple pictures taken, we left the boys holding our bouquets – mostly because we forgot – and headed down to the water to play a bit.  Julie and I found multiple jellyfish, and I enjoyed flipping them over and poking them with sticks.  Good times.  Then we piled back in cars and headed to the reception.


Reception = maybe 50 people.  As per tradition, this part started by the DJ announcing the bridesmaid/groomsmen pairs as we exited the cabin and went out to the outside tables.  Now, this should not have been an interesting event.  However, every other pair was introduced and walked out, Quinn and I were totally on our game and prepared, and then we heard, “And now, for the first time as husband and wife…”  Gloria yelped, “No, he’s forgetting you!”  The easiest way out of it was to just step back and let Gloria and J out, so we did, the crowd outside applauded, and then Gloria and J went to dance their first dance on the porch.  Quinn and I, meanwhile, were lost sheep back in the cabin.  As I was contemplating what to do with my newfound nonexistence, Quinn muttered, “Eh, screw it,” and pushed open the doors.  We scampered out and down the stairs (as stealthily as was possible with everyone watching) and hurried over to join the other bridesmaids and groomsmen.  All of them were aware we’d been forgotten and were tittering with suppressed laughter.  Quinn and Angel quickly discussed what had happened, and Quinn turned to me and M and said, “I’m naming this guy MC Fail.”  (So that’s going to stick as an inside joke.) 
The rest of the reception was lovely and fun and slightly less cold. Finally, we did the bubbles thing as Gloria and J ran to their car, and then they were off and so were my shoes.  The energy immediately died and clearly everyone just wanted to get the hell out of there, and I mentioned to M that wherever we were going for dinner had better serve alcohol.  Pregnant Julie requested that we have a drink for her (which I later did).  We all changed back into crap clothes, hauled out stuff to the cars, and then were free. 

Day 4:  On the ride home, M and I took our time, unlike the last visit to Florida when we’d driven pretty much straight back in one day.  At one point, M was driving and pointed to the side of the road. “Ooh, look!  A falcon!”  A few seconds later, she pointed to the other side of the road, “Oh, look!  A man peeing!”  Such is Alabama.    

Having the attention span of a squirrel, during the ride home my mind wandered back to turning 30.  Even in the warm afterglow of the wedding back south, I thought forward to life back north.  It occurred to me that 2011, the year of being 29, had been really one of the greatest years of my life.  And I hadn’t planned any of it.  Didn’t that say something?  I still can’t say I have a clue what will come of life in my 30s.  I don’t know what I want to come, honestly.  Am I okay just taking what comes?  Can I trust God enough that, whatever it is, it’ll be good, fulfilling, and exactly what I never knew I wanted?  Or do I need direction and goals?  Do I need some aim?  Really, I have NEVER known what I want.  I’ve NEVER had goals.  Why should that suddenly change just because I’ve hit 30?  I’m still the same person, just evolved and farther down the road from when I was little and thought I should have everything figured out by now.  I dropped the severe Type A personality a long time ago, so why do I keep trying to find control if I know I’m happier without it?  I like the journey, I’m along for the ride, and maybe that’s all God wants me to do – trust, and let whatever happens happen.

“Single-Serving Friends”

“Sometimes you run into someone, regardless of age or sex, whom you know absolutely to be an independently operating part of the Whole that goes on all the time inside yourself, and the eye-motes go click and you hear the tribal tones of voice resonate, and there it is – you recognize them.”  — Anne Lamott

“So when we meet as strangers, when even friends look like strangers, it is good to remember that we need each other greatly you and I, more than much of the time we dare to imagine, more than more of the time we dare to admit.  Island calls to island across the silence, and once, in trust, the real words come, a bridge is built and love is done –not sentimental, emotional love, but love that is pontifex, bridge-builder. Love that speak the holy and healing word which is: God be with you, stranger who are no stranger. I wish you well. The islands become an archipelago, a continent, become a kingdom whose name is the Kingdom of God.”  — Buechner

For my own sanity and well-being, I try not to base too much of my life philosophy on Fight Club.  However, the idea of single-serving friends is something that I appreciate.

Probably the biggest difference between the Sunny of Mother Superior Era and Sunny Version 2.0 is that now I like people.  Love ‘em, even.  As a writer, people are good sources of quirks that aren’t from my own head.  As a slightly better-adjusted human being, people are just fascinating for their own sake.  I love meeting new people, which is something I learned about myself during the model scouting period.  I’ve always liked opening people up, finding what makes them tick, finding what passions drive them.  Sometime the people that are in our lives every day get comfortingly boring, and we forget to ask new questions, discover new things.  With new people, it’s much easier and natural to ask about who they are.  And it’s great how new people can completely surprise you by being exactly what you need at exactly that moment.  I think the shock value of a complete stranger getting you can do wonders. Sometimes you run into someone who is so much you that it’s wonderful (or awful).  Sometimes you run into someone who teaches you something you’ll remember for the rest of your life.

Here are a few of my favorite single-serving friends:

  • Garage Sale Kindred.  During a family garage sale, my brother and I had an encounter with one of those people who I know God throws in my path just to get my attention.  We were almost ready to close down the garage sale for the day when this blue car slid to a stop just too far of our driveway.  Slamming the unenthused car into reverse, this old lady pulled into our driveway and got out to inspect my brother’s drums.  Immediately, we both got the sense that she didn’t think she was old – you could just tell that about her.  Her hair was white and she wore wide-rimmed glasses, but she carried herself like she was my age.  She wore this beautiful sari that fluttered in the wind like a flag.  The woman – I don’t even think we got her name – had attitude, spunk.  It would be no stretch to say that she was interested in whatever she came across that she didn’t know about, I think.  It was like she knew a secret that only she and life shared.  Christian and I both agreed after she left that she was awesome.  All the time we talked to her about her Sunday school kids, her yellow house down on the corner, my brother’s drums, and our own lives, she talked to us like we were her equals.  That really was a great unspoken compliment.
  • Smiley Asian Guy.  Do you ever notice that simple, seemingly coincidental run-ins can change your outlook on a day? One morning at college, I was stressing over the problematic people in my life.  I was walking down the sidewalk when I crossed paths with a little man who was obviously a visitor to campus. As I walked by him, he greeted me with a serene grin and asked, “Are you enjoying this morning?” It was just funny somehow, and it surprised me because it wasn’t the monotonous, “Hi, how are you?” I perked up immediately.
  • Meijer Lady. During grocery shopping on a busy day, I found myself stuck in a funnel where this silly girl with her boyfriend was clogging the aisle as she tried for 3 minutes to decide which kind of ketchup she wanted. A lady in a scooter and I were the next up for crossing paths if the girl moved, and we made eye contact and exchanged smirks. Finally the exasperated boyfriend shoved his cart to the side enough for the scooter lady to get by. As she went by me she said with an eye roll, “Your word for the day is, OBTUSE.” I started laughing but tried to cover it as the boyfriend also rolled his eyes. Great.

So, yeah, I enjoy discovering fresh people.  But what about people who are in my life daily and who have been in my life forever?  Obviously we can always seek to know people better, and we shouldn’t forget to continually try.  This leads to another favorite quote:

“We spend our lives guessing at what’s going on inside everybody else, and when we happen to get lucky and guess right, we think we ‘understand.’ Such nonsense. Even a monkey at a computer will type a word every now and then.” – Orson Scott Card

But the thing about people you know well – in many ways, it’s harder to be surprised by them.  You know each other’s histories.  You know their favorite foods and movies.  You know what makes them angry.  You know so much about them already that you can get lazy about pushing for more.  However, even old, old, old friends can surprise you and be exactly what you need at exactly that moment.  I’ve found that the trick is to fake myself out, to be just as interested while conversing with a friend as I would be with a new, single-serving friend.  You see things more freshly that way, and sometimes your eye-motes go click.  Sometimes you re-meet someone you’ve known for years and they’re a blessing you never saw coming.

 A few times old friends/family/acquaintances have really mattered to me:

  • Shaaaaaaane!  The summer between high school and college, I was a mess, to say the least.  One of my cousin Randy’s friends, Shane, happened to be up for the Fourth of July at my aunt and uncle’s cottage on the lake.  Everyone pretty much acted like normal, asking me the usual questions about my upcoming departure for college, but I remember sitting on the beach with Shane and him asking me similar questions.  For whatever reason (I’ve convinced myself it had nothing to do with the fact that I was at last 18), Shane treated me like he really cared, like this next step in my life mattered.  I’m not sure we’d ever really talked before, but for some reason this was completely refreshing to me and meant a lot, maybe simply because he was a new person and I needed so very badly to be reminded that I needed new.
  • Rachel K.  A great thing about people who know you well is that sometimes they know exactly which of their own experiences you can learn from vicariously, even if you never saw it coming.  When I was having problems with a particular mutual friend, Rachel was a surprising source of comfort as she explained a similar situation with another mutual friend (yes, I’m being vague).  It was one of the first times we connected about things more serious than books and movies, and her response to her situation made me realize I had a better way to handle my whole thing.  Her advice really helped, and I’d never seen it coming. 
  • Second-Favorite Hunter.  I think I’ve told this story before.  Chris H. is really probably my favorite hunter (don’t tell!) because I like a person who will jab at me playfully and know I won’t be offended.  Chris for years would say, “What is that smell?” whenever I would enter a room.  Anyway, during one fateful Haymarsh Sporting Clays Pig Roast, I broke my hand.  Everyone asked what I’d done and looked sorry for me and all that.  My family of course knew I was a klutz and so helped me get a plateful of pig and other assorted potluck food.  BUT, much to my surprise, Chris was the one who brought me a piece of the dessert his wife had made.  I didn’t ask for it, he didn’t ask first, he just brought it over.  It was oddly kind and memorable, and it reaffirmed my love for my weird little hunter family of adopted-uncle-types.

Now here’s the flipside.  What happens when I am that person who has the opportunity to matter in someone else’s life? How can I contribute to the people in my life – whether strangers, single-serving friends, people I’ve known forever, whatever?

For starters, I really do try to smile more (stop laughing, people who know me! I do!).  I learned from that man above that this simple thing can matter to people.  And I can be more cordial and kind in general to random people whenever our paths cross.

Strangers actually are easiest for me to be charitable towards.  It’s the people I know well, the people who I’ve spent perhaps too much time with, the people whose flaws/strengths I know inside and out that I have a hard time with.  (Apologies all ‘round.) But obviously these are the people I’ve invested in, the people who are most part of ME, and I should work to be…better.  I should have the decency to dig deeper and not assume I know everything about them.  I should be more forgiving of faults.  I should seek to help them open up and grow. I should be encouraging.  I should…I should…I should.

Sometimes I even do.  I really do try to give more than I take.  I try to be whatever a person needs from me.  It’s that 1 Corinthians, “I have become all things to all people” idea.  The problem is that I somehow usually end up draining myself – yes, I realize how self-righteous that sounds.  Often I will invest so much in trying to help someone that I lose myself and feel like that person is sucking me dry.  So, yeah, a happy medium would be good.  But, honestly, I always know God is trying to teach me something as I try to help whoever He’s put in front of me.  Patience. Compassion. Abandonment of self.  Etc. Etc. Even in mattering to other people, we end up getting a lesson ourselves, I think.

There are obvious things I need to work on.  I’m not good with criers.  Hypothetically, I will pat a crying person’s head if I don’t know what else to do.  And I’m not good with not poking when I see something is wrong – I want to fix everything and often don’t have the patience to go at someone else’s pace.  I’m not good at letting down my defensive shield if it means I might get hurt, if it means I might have to be so honest that I could lose that friend.  And, again hypothetically, when a person requires more vulnerability from me than I’m prepared for, I’m not good at letting go of all my little mechanisms for controlling the situation, and instead I will segue with something like, “Say, did you hear about that killing spree?” …Hypothetically.

So, yeah.  People sometimes surprise you and can change you.  And you can sometimes surprise people.  I think the key thing – whether with strangers or best friends – is to treat each meeting as an opportunity to know someone better. You just never know who might turn out to really, really matter.

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