Jewish World Review Feb. 4, 2004 / 11 Shevat 5764
Renewing ourselves: Time with friends should be a source of emotional and spiritual sustenance
LAURIE, Mo. Winter rain, inhospitable and cruelly indifferent to where it lands, has been
falling for two days, sometimes hard, sometimes like a soft, wet gauze.
But none of us staying in this house cares. We are old friends, together once more to
celebrate getting even older - four of the six of us, anyway, who have birthdays within a
few days of each other. We collect here in this lake house each year to commemorate our
maturity (together we account for almost 350 years).
So unless the weather would prevent us from getting here to the Lake of the Ozarks, it
really doesn't matter. What matters, instead, is being together, catching up on our lives,
processing the connections among us, the values, the photos, the stories.
And laughing. For instance, one of the women, who was reading Outside, a magazine I
had never heard of, ran across information about a spa that featured "purified nightingale
droppings" that its professionals apparently use as a skin treatment. It's impossible not
to laugh at some of the more outrageous elements of our pretentious culture. The first
person in our group to have the treatment will become the victim of our endless and witty
All three couples now are grandparents. So part of our time is spent telling lovely tales
about how magnificent our children's children are. As usual, the first liar never has a
chance. And, of course, we pass around pictures of our children and grandchildren and
recount the developments in their lives.
We also bring good food. Food is sacramental. It's useful not just for nutrition. It also
gives us an entry into each other's psyches and souls. It speaks to us of sustenance just
as our being together helps to sustain us for another year.
Frederick Buechner, the magnificent spiritual author from Vermont, once described bread
this way: "Man does not live by bread alone, but he also does not live long without it. To
eat is to acknowledge our dependence - both on food and on each other. It also reminds
us of other kinds of emptiness that not even the Blue Plate Special can touch."
The rhythm of weekends like this finds its source in natural things. There is a television in
the house, but it's behind the closed doors of a cabinet and it doesn't work anyway. There
is a telephone that almost never rings. We rise when we're ready in the morning and we
sleep when we're tired - no matter what time of day it is.
And we talk and talk and talk. Sometimes, after exhausting a topic, we simply marinate in
the silence, waiting for another topic to suggest itself. In the silences, if we're not reading
whatever book we brought along, we sometimes just stare out the windows at the cold
lake, watching birds float on the purled water or on the air currents.
Last year we spotted a magnificent eagle over the lake. We walked the few yards from the
house to the shore and simply watched the great bird. One year when we were here, the
lake was frozen over, and we studied the odd patterns that had formed on the surface as
the water puckered into ice.
We are out of touch with the normal, often frenzied pace of our lives here, but we aren't
isolated. If we need another loaf of bread or a morning newspaper, a store is less than 10
minutes away. And a journey of 20 minutes or so brings us to a place where we can buy a
pair of shoes or something for the grandchildren.
But mostly we come simply to be. And to be with each other.
Cicero, more than 2,000 years ago, described a friend as "a second self." I think he got
that wrong. I don't want a second self. On some days, one of me is way more than
Rather, I want someone who respects me and wants to be with me but who also cares
enough about me to challenge me on some things and to offer me new ways of seeing
things, ideas I hadn't come up with on my own. And, beyond that, someone who can
communicate such things with gentle conviction, not with righteous and annoying
One night we played a silly parlor game called "True Colors." Through the use of colored
cards and questions, it tests players' view of themselves by requiring others to make
judgments about each player. It's mostly a mindless game, but it opened more discussion
about our core values. It's that kind of talk that leads to deepening friendships.
A weather front arrived on our last night and cleared away the dank clouds. We awoke to sun and cold. Which was fine, but
it didn't matter, either. Not much else does matter when friends are filling up their emotional and spiritual reservoirs together.
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Reprinted by permission, The Kansas City Star, Copyright 2002. All rights reserved