Thursday, May 17, 2007

Teamwork, Friendship, Rivalry, Peace

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Warning: Plot Spoilers Follow

What do the films "Blood Diamond" and "Spiderman 3" have in common with the plays "Journey's End" and "Deuce?" By God, I'll put my Comparative Literature degree to use one way or another!

Besides that Pat and I have seen all of them during our vacation so far, all of them also include tension and ultimate peace between complicated friends.

The diamond hunter and slave laborer; Peter Parker and his friend Harry; Stanhope and Rawley; and Midge and Lee (Leona) all show each other love ultimately, though along the way, things turn, and are, nasty.

Considering the trials of these pairs of ultimate friends, I thought further about having declared in a prior post that someone with whom I was friends turned out to be a "jerk," and about other friendships of mine.

There are my longest friendships, with my mother and sisters, and my richest, with Pat, and one that was re-ignited from childhood as adults, and a few others that are more dormant than I might wish, but that I've had since high school, and three from college, and several from work experiences.

Of course, the friends I've lost are the ones that make me ache.

My grandmothers, Nana and Sabta, my middle-school classmate Caryn Lesnoy, my aunt Tovah, my dad, my beloved teachers Rabbi Kosowsky and Mrs. Honan, may all of their memories be blessed, plus friends with whom I've grown apart all remind me of the heaviness of the radiation-deflecting mini-blanket that dentists have draped over me to do teeth X-rays. They are a layer of, in this case invisible, weight.

Two semesters ago, I learned the adult education theory term, "critical incident," which refers to traumatic moments that teach us more than we are typically open to learning. All of my losses have been critical incidents.

The "Blood Diamond" Friendships

There were two friendships in the movie, actually: between the diamond hunter and the slave laborer, and between the diamond hunter's love interest and the slave laborer.

The first friendship was driven by commerce and mutual need. One of our retired executives used to say, "No one hates you more than they love your money." The context for his comment, if I remember correctly, was around multicultural marketing and how positive it can be ultimately for the world, that is, that people who differ from each other sometimes become acquainted by doing business, and then notice and acknowledge their common ground.

The second was driven by memory of poignant experiences and trials they shared.

Most of the people with whom I've become friends at work are people with whom I might never have crossed paths, or necessarily sought out, if not for our common commercial connection. Two come to mind particularly: the friend whose father was a rocket scientist in Nazi Germany and the friend who did a stint as an aversion therapist, delivering jolts/shocks every time she showed gay men images of attractive men. She did not know then what she knows now.

There are three friends who know me from when my dad died in 1982, and who sent me Rilke poems to comfort me, tried to love me during our experimental, teenage years or who were purely platonic and present in every other way. My father's death was a trial.

And there are friends who helped one another through college, to survive our adolescence and earliest adulthood, another trial, and a friend who was with me nearly every day during my year abroad in Jerusalem at 20, which was one of my life's most poignant series of experiences so far.

The "Spiderman 3" Friendship

Ultimately, Peter's and Harry's friendship relied on beating an enemy together. I think of the friends I've made for whom our common enemy is homophobia and exclusion. And in the case of one of Peter's enemies, peace came when Peter listened to what drove his enemy and forgave him for it.

I know that I need to forgive my former friend for what had to have been simply her pure fear. What good does it do nearly a quarter of a century later still to be calling her a jerk?

The "Journey's End" Friendship

Stanhope felt the burden of Rawley's hero worship. As it turned out, ultimately, Rawley was the heroic one. I had a best friend I adored from early childhood, from ages three to seven...and still do -- the mythic, seven-year-old version of her. Her father died when we were eight and by then, we were no longer friends. I remember staring across at her during the funeral, at how remote she was.

She was my Stanhope. I never learned explicitly why she stopped being friends with me, but part of it, I imagine, was how unwittingly, yet probably cloyingly admiring I was of her, and how passive, that is, we always played and did whatever she wanted. Never again did I feel like I was not a peer in a friendship, until perhaps that crush freshman year with the former friend who married a minister.

In the case of that early, best friend, like Rawley, I have gone on to do my share of brave work in the world, and I must acknowledge that as a pediatric nurse practitioner, so has the former friend. In the case of my early best friend, apparently her name is more popular than I thought because Google tells me that she's an army sergeant who recently cleaned placque off the teeth of a security forces squadron military working dog, or is an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) racer, or was a protester at the O.J. trial....Any one of those activities, perhaps, could be considered brave, even as I don't recognize the hero I worshipped among any of them.

The "Deuce" Friendship

Thirty years on, Midge and Leona still felt vulnerable around, and ultimately loyal to, each other. My mother and I have that sort of friendship, I think.

Perhaps, I'm Midge to her Leona. We are not contemporaries, but the dynamic always has been that we might as well be. My life has been more orderly so far and, in some ways, more conventional than my mother's.

Typically, both of us have phenomenal recall of events that happened many, many years ago. Sometimes, we disappoint, and even break each other's heart with our actions, and then ultimately support each other in them.

Over their lifetimes, I loved how Midge and Leona were team-players, rivals, friends and peace-providers for each other, and I see my mother and myself in parallel....I have to comment about any potential rivalry. My mom's not as jealous as some mothers at her kids' achievements; rather, typically, she's proud and sees it as a reflection on her having done something right for us. When someone compliments one of my sisters or me in her presence, she says, smiling, "It's not her fault."

And if I say, "God bless you," after she sneezes, my mother always responds, "He has."

Still, my mother's typical response to most of what anyone tells her is one of her features that haunts me a bit about how I, too, want to respond most often. More often than not, if I tell my mother something, she will respond with something similar that she has experienced.

Is it being competitive? Is it being self-absorbed? Or is it being affiliative? Or is it trying to demonstrate empathy and that she can relate to what I am saying? I am just the same way...which is why my recent visit with my friend was challenging. I wanted to tell her how I related to everything she was expressing in her grief, and tried to bite my tongue most of the time, but not always successfully.

The answer to all of the questions above, I believe in my case, likely is: yes.

Bonus Friendship Points

When I was very little, my mother and I recall my misbehaving and her becoming upset with me. A bit later, I came up to her contritely and asked, "Friends now?"

One of my father's, may his memory be blessed, favorite sayings came from Pirkei Avot (Chapter 1, Verse 6) "...kneh l'chah chaver..." /"...acquire a friend..." He said that the authors understood that friendship is so important that even if you have to buy a friend, it's worth it (the literal translation of "kneh" is "buy"). What that has meant for me, growing up, is that it pays to be generous to friends and that buying friendship is not a matter literally of spending money on friends, though baby-gifts et al are never a bad idea, but rather investing in them.

These two weeks that I have off from work are mostly an investment in my dearest friendship with Pat. Fortunately, I have the whole morning to spend here, on my friendship with myself, as Pat is doing her weekly soup-kitchen volunteering till 2:30 pm, when I'll pick her up from the train, and then maybe we'll go for a swim.

How do you invest in your friendships?


stonelion said...

Was it Rilke poems or was it lines from his "Letters to a Young Poet"?

Sarah Siegel said...

It was definitely a hand-picked selection of Rilke poems meant to ease my grief.

stonelion said...

Ah. Slightly differing memories, then. The essence is the same, though.