“Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:12)
“Hell is other people.” (Sartre)
You will not hear from me for several days. I am going camping. I will travel for two and a half days, each way, in order to spend one night on the trail. But if you have to ask why, maybe you haven’t been to western North Carolina. Or maybe you don’t have friends like I do. I pray that you do.
I love my friend, but my life is more complicated because of them. I may say the same thing about my wife someday, if I am ever so blessed. My life is better, but definitely more complicated. I remember back when I had no true friends. Middle school. There was Nate, but he lived on the far side of town, so other than the once a month or two, I felt like a man without a country. Then I became a workaholic in high school and forgot to care.
College changed everything. There are others like me, in mind, in heart, and in spirit. I am not alone. And there are others better than me, sharper, purer, saner even, who can make me more whole just by showing up and being themselves. It is to spend time with men that I will trek across six states.
I lost my mind once. It was a “manic episode,” part of bipolar disorder. I’ll share the gory details in a later post, but what matters here: my friends helped me get to see a psychiatrist, before I even knew something was wrong with me. After getting on medication, I spent a few months in rehab with my family. Home is always a safe place, but not always a healthy one, especially as a young adult. I had to escape. Another friend took me in for the next six months, sedated, depressed, and marginally-employed as I was.
Few things in life are more beautiful than friendship. The joy is sweeter and bitterness more bearable with friends. Friends make us who we are. It’s not just a matter of influence. It’s a matter of context. I am not my full self when I am not with my friends. Don’t get me wrong. I need alone time. But when I emerge from the cave of my mind, I need brothers and sisters — including you! — with whom to discuss, spar, dream, and despair. Why else do we blog?
But friendship is uncomfortable, inconvenient, and complicated. The pay-off is huge, but it comes at a price. I think of the lengths that God went to to become my friend in the person of Jesus.
My imperfections have grated against my friends’ imperfections, even on this small trip. Me watching too much Pacino and De Niro, barking logistics on the phone and baffled at the contingencies. A.M. might not meet be in Chicago after all. “Why not Nashville? It’s on the way. You could transfer the ticket you just bought, even though the trip is this week….” G.K. might have to do work on the house he is trying to buy and skip out on all of the actual hiking. J.D. has to leave a day early to be with his wife. And I feel like I’m the only one who owns a calendar and a map.
I have a choice: I can flex my ego and refuse to accomodate, or I can do whatever it takes to make this trip happen. So I’m getting on a bus tomorrow bound northward, so that I can travel south and east, six days on the road for one night under the stars and one night of beer and pizza. Their beer, my pizza. Alcohol doesn’t mix well with my meds, but friendship does. It always will.