'I'll stay if you stay. If you can believe despite all this, then so can I.'
We stood there, amid the skulls, in awe of our shared desire to still believe, the desire our unspoken dare seemed to reveal."
--Love and Salt: A Spiritual Friendship Shared in Letters
by Amy Alznauer and Jessica Mesman Griffith
One night, so many years ago (it was only three), three girls walked into a bar. And there they met all their friends and classmates. It was the third Saturday night of August, and the first of senior year.
These three friends were very good friends, although I don't know if they knew how truly, very good of friends they were yet.
They talked together over large summer shandys. It was the kind of night that makes you like summer shandys, which are a drink beloved less by flavor than by pleasant associations.
They laughed together, and they spoke of all the things happening in their hearts that good friends listen to, enraptured. They talked of summer and of impending autumns. Little did they know how soon winter would arrive, with their shandys, shorts, and sunny eyes.
Often, they were whisked away to talk to other groups of friends, or make the acquaintance of strange acquaintances, or meet strangers that their friends were barely acquainted with.
The movement of the bar that night was a constant swirl and eddy of bodies moving into conversation, then drifting away, moving close together, like galaxies whirling into collision, then pulling back, planets drawn by gravity of different suns.
Always, the friends would return to their own solar system trio, its gravitational pull their Polaris.
Growing up, for me, has meant being pulled into different galaxies. It has meant to talk to different constellations, and learn the flavors of different nebulae. It has meant being stretched out of my gravitational field of contentment, and making friends with foreigners. It has meant being challenged by the local atmosphere, and confronted by an image of the world that is not homogenous and neat.
Growing up means allowing doubt a seat at the table. It means playing with thoughts I had never given airtime. It means extending beliefs to their logical conclusions, and watching with horror and delight as your world sinks and is refashioned. It means welcoming into your heart people you kept at arm's length. It means facing the world around you, diving into all the broken, uncomfortable spots, letting what is chaff be shaken off, and what is fruitful remain.
For me, growing up has meant growing away, growing apart, a splintering and a fracturing. It has meant exploration and discovery, and being more liberal than afraid.
It has meant a lot of change, a lot of anger, and a lot of dismay at what you find when you lift up the rock and examine its underside. The world is not cosmetic from that angle: it is full of creepy, crawly spider-like things, and not a lot of sunshine.
And I love that. I would rather see things as they are, then have them be as they are, happening underneath my feet, and me never knowing any better.
I would rather lift up all the rocks, and expose their dark, unhappy underbellies, than live only in the sunshine. I would rather feed doubt sometimes than lock her howling outside the door.
Because, in all the moments of discomfort, dismay, fear, and tectonic collisions, I find myself always drawn back, like the three stars to their shandys, to those who love me, feed me, and make me whole.
And this has been one of the sweetest gifts: to find that, through life's changes, there are the constants. There are the friends who, although miles away, always remind you of your authentic self, the self they know beyond and above the changing present. These are the people you never actually leave.
And, as attracted as I am to adventure, inconvenience, and discomfort; as interested as I am in the parts of myself that are still just throbbing potential, waiting to be awoken into life by different cities, countries, and communities, it is even more important to cling to the people who know you at your core.
They are the people who you walk with, who say: where you go, I will go, and where you stay, I will stay. And as important as it is to stretch yourself, to seek what is true, to seek what is joy, in all the uncomfortable places of the world, it is just as important to return to the font of joy.
If we do not return to the place where we are from, where our self is cohesive, and rooted in the love that has made us, then our growth becomes just drifting. We become chameleons, conforming ourselves to our environments, and changing our hues to suit the social scene. Growth, I have been told is more like a spiral than a straight line. It is a constant flow of going forth and returning. Of being sent away and coming home.
We are always being sent forth, but there is always a table for us to return to. It is in that return we discover ourselves, newly ornamented with new opinions, and shaped slightly differently by the force of experience, contrasted with our old outline. It is often pleasant to see the differences in the outlines and the shapes.
The returning is not optional. We must return there, to be fed on friendship, wine, good conversation, or God Himself.
But returning implies, by necessity, a leaving. If we never leave the comfort of our own contented world and seek to understand what is strange and foreign, and to love in a place where we are not at home, we will never discover the joy of the return.
We will never discover, to our delight, that there are those who walk with us, always. The circle whose dependability is undeniable, even as you dart off to talk to all the faces, blurry in the twinkle-lights, at the bar. The circle whose people are our people, and whose God is ours as well.