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Monday, June 8, 2009

The Most Cherished of Registers

Making lists is kind of a pastime for me, although I decided this time to make a list for a different reason than just to compile something. This one was for my own self, not to publish, comprised of all the personal acquaintances I’ve most admired over the years. I won’t be naming any names, but I just wanted to comment on the exercise itself.

Looking over the couple hundred names or so made me realize how many good people there are out there, and how different times of my life have been scattered with folks like this. I’m sure many on the list would be surprised to know their name is on there or that I even noticed.

But what’s important isn’t specifically who’s on it or who’s off. There are no awards to give out here. And after all, a list can be an arbitrary standard to set. For example, I deliberated over several names of people I admire quite a bit, and left many of them off the list in an attempt to keep it semi-exclusive (narrowed down to a couple hundred!). I didn’t want it to be everybody I admired, but more of those who had something extra. And it can depend on the mood at the time. Wistful? Nostalgic? Delicate? Spunky? Machiavellian? Erstwhile? Take your pick.

Some, I could only remember the first names of. And I’m sure more people will come to mind from my past. All in all, a very nice stroll down memory lane right up to the current intersection I’m in.

The list doesn’t include my family line, which would consist of immediate family members, along with parents, siblings and grandparents. Family is pretty much a special category. But extended relatives and everybody else are fair game. Gotta have a little fun with your acquaintances, right? Otherwise they might get stale. :)

The other point is that it’s not necessarily some great honor for people to be on this list, rather the honor is all mine to have known people of this caliber to be able to put them on a list at all. My life is all the richer for sharing in experiences with them. I think, wow, if they can put up with me, I guess I’m not all that bad.

There are people on the list I’ve barely known. One I met for only a day, but they still made a lasting impact. Some I’ve never talked to, though I’ve been around them. Some I’ve only known through the internet. Some I’ve never had a conversation of a personal nature with. Some I’ve tried for years to find again, with a few of them popping up recently. Some I might hear from every few months. Some I might bump into a few times a week. Some moved away and I miss their presence. Some I wonder where they are today. Some have passed on to the next life. Some are quite young. Some are still fitting into their skin and it’s fun to see their growth. Some might not think to give me the time of day, yet I still appreciate what they represent. Some I have no categories for — they just are, and that’s kind of neat too.

Making the list was energizing. As another name would come to mind, I’d think, “Yeah! Got to add them!” And it would make me feel grateful to know them. And it’s also fun thinking about people behind their back...

I would’ve liked to have known a lot of these people better. Alas, there’s not often as much time as you would like to create. Lives have a way up being filled up near the brim, with little margin to squeeze more in. But we take what we can get and hopefully have some time to reserve for truly sharing in the company of those we’re drawn to.

We’ve also got our online worlds which fit into the mix, which are quite fascinating. I can size each of my friends into little squares for safe keeping, send out group messages, check in on the chatter between them and others, ignore them for a few days if I’m so inclined (for all they know, I’ve flown my Lear jet up to Nova Scotia — to see the total eclipse of Mars or something), send them bits and pieces as they’re ready to digest, and just carry on like it’s one continuous party. And stuff. Or at least that’s one theory.

On this subject, in the foreword of a social media book written by someone else, Anthony Robbins had this to say: “Technology has given us so many ways of communicating, but are we truly connecting or just corresponding? Are we adding people into our lives who share our values or merely collecting a list of profiles? Are we deepening relationships or just maintaining them? As much as we want to nurture every relationship, advances in technology have given us access to more relationships and less time to deepen them... Your relationships are as strong or deep as you choose to make them. If you spend quality time in your intimate relationships, if you connect with your families and your friends, those relationships will flourish. If you don’t reach your family or friends, those relationships get stripped of the substance and texture they deserve.”

Some good food for thought there. I wish I could carry Anthony Robbins around with me all day. Well, he’s bigger than me, so maybe on a baggage cart. He’d come in handy a lot. And he’s got a lot of fun stories to tell. I’d have to weigh that against dealing with the added paparazzi, but I could probably handle it with sunglasses. At any rate… I think the internet can provide the illusion that quantity is akin to quality. It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that while technology can facilitate social constructs, it can’t very well increase their rate while done en masse. Some things just have to be done at a deliberate pace.

In some utopian dream, it would be nice to be close friends with everyone, where we all meander about in some elaborate ancient Greek backdrop, endlessly feasting on grapes straight off the vine while getting lost in scintillating mythological conversation. Although back here in reality (that jerk you felt was it biting), things don’t work quite that efficiently. Not even if you grow your own vineyard.

If you tried to be everybody’s friend, you’d come across to most or all as impersonal and therefore artificial, because friendships need to have real time and effort invested in them and not merely lip service. In the midst of a potpourri of friends to choose from, maintaining genuine depth in some of them is vital. Someone should write all this down somewhere.

I don’t need to get all psychological about this (especially this late at night). My aim is to put the concept out there and let people cogitate over it in their own situations, being grateful for your friends, knowing that I’m grateful for mine, that sometimes the twain shall meet, and then singing the obligatory rendition of Kumbayah at the end. (I prefer the more rousing version by Guadalcanal Diary from their album Walking in the Shadow of the Big Man, fittingly the final track on the album)

So, what makes a good friend? I suppose there are as many varying attributes as there are friends. Examples of a friend that stand out to me are:
• Someone who changes the way you look at the world or yourself.
• Someone who shows you kindness and caring.
• Someone who teaches you life lessons.
• Someone who is just being who they are.
• Someone who has something to share.
• Someone who there’s just something about that wins you over.
• Someone who you’d like to be like.
• Someone who’s simply pleasant to be around.
• Someone who can pull a smile out of you that you didn’t know was there.
• Someone who understands you.
• Someone who accepts you for who you are.
• Someone who’s uniquely themself.
• Someone who sees things in you that others don’t.
• Someone who believes in you.
• Someone who challenges you to become better, and inspires you to want to.

A friend doesn’t need to have all of those traits — even one or two can be very welcome. And I’ve been privileged to know people who run the gamut on them.

So if we were to make a toast, here’s to friends past, present and future. May we all be so lucky... May we treasure our friends, may we be good friends, and if at some point down the road we happen to find that utopian dream, I’ve got dibs on one of the hammocks in the shade.


Sara said...


I loved loved loved this post. I loved the list you made of what makes a good friend. This was thought provoking and a good read. One to 'bookmark' for future reading again.

kacy faulconer said...

I certainly feel like we are friends. A friend "IRL" is probably more meaningful than a "virtual" friend but these days, who cares? I'm sure we'd be friends IRL if given the chance. I'm glad I met you online. You are pleasant and have won me over.

Rusty Southwick said...

Thank you, Sara. I'm glad that this had some real value for you. It's good to hear, and I appreciate your taking the time to comment. It's nice to know my audience, even if it's after the fact!

Rusty Southwick said...

Good thoughts, Kacy. It's validating to realize there are "virtual" friends out there. I'll have to go back and watch some Star Trek: Next Generation episodes where they philosophize over any basic differences between regular life and the holodeck, if there are any.

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