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Jewish World Review
Friendship means knowing when to hold 'em … and when to walk away
The art of re-connecting
The other night, while driving back with neighbors from a celebration, the conversation in the car turned to the bar mitzvah the couple will soon be hosting at a hotel. Extended family and closest friends will be invited. I am grateful to be counted among the latter. But, the mother lamented, many of these friends are no longer on good terms with each other. The situation, she said, is like having members of your own family not talking to each other.
About twenty-five years ago, and for the better part of a decade, we were all part
of a group of friends not unlike those in television sitcoms. We got together as a
group and shared our plans, our dreams and our free time. In time we married, had
children. As we shared the milestones of our growing up, we also grew apart as
each of us faced our own challenges, grew, changed, moved away and got caught up in
the triumphs and vicissitudes of life; many of which we shared with each other but
many of which we couldn't.
Now, about to celebrate a milestone in their own lives, my neighbors are faced with trying
to get these disparate people together to share a Sabbath and sing in harmony the
way we used to. The truth is though, we are all singing our own life songs in
altogether different keys.
But since we begin the month of reckoning and forgiveness, of self-examination and
rectification, I would like to offer the opinion that all that has happened is not a
bad thing. And not all is lost.
Firstly, all life is a process of growth which necessitates change and a parting of
ways at its crossroads. The fact that we don't all walk the same path anymore only
illustrates that we have made different choices not rejected our former friends.
Everyone has to forge their own path in life and that means giving up older ones.
We have not rejected our old lives, only embraced other initiatives.
Many times we go through our own pains and problems and that makes us be insensitive
to others. It doesn't even have anything to do with them. On a recent visit to some
old friends out of town, a friend told me that his daughter had been offended by me a
few visits previously. Apparently she had come to hug me after not seeing me for a
few years and I had shrunk back without being aware of it. When he told me this, I
had cried, not only because I had insulted her, when no insult had been intended. I
was happy to see her and perhaps not ready for her effusive greeting, but because I
had obviously become so skittish as a result of being hurt by others that I recoiled
at a true show of affection. I didn't mean to hurt her but it was an unconscious
defense mechanism. While I mourn the loss of my ingenuousness, it had absolutely
nothing at all to do with my desire for closeness with her.
When others hurt us, it is usually a manifestation of their own pain. People are
generally not malicious, they are vulnerable and most insensitivity comes out of
their own vulnerability and our misunderstanding of it. Do you really think your
friends want to hurt you? Of course not. A moment of insensitivity is usually the
result of a moment of inattentiveness. What cements the rift however, is the person
then not taking pains to alleviate the hurt. Sometimes this is because they don't
realize it because the person hasn't told them and often when they finally do, too
much time has elapsed to allow the person to extricate themselves graciously from
Another thing is that people generally want to be good. When we are different from
them, often their only way of acknowledging their basic goodness is to attack our
version of what is right to justify their behavior and beliefs. All fights and
arguments about existential truth is the result of our wanting to do what's right
and having others' beliefs and opinions threaten that. Many of us are not good at
live and let live. I happen to be one of those people.
In our fight for the right,
some of our friends become casualties. We must always be careful to differentiate
between the other person who is our brother or sister and their value system which
we don't accept. We can be true to ourselves while disagreeing with others. Also,
many times our concern with the way others live their lives and truths is true
concern. We don't want others to agree with us out of a selfish desire to control
them but because we really truly want what's best for
them. Think of your parents.
A couple of months ago, I reconnected with an old friend. I had been hurt when she
had chosen to stop being in touch but by her own admission this wasn't deliberate. It just happened because she was involved with her own life, and I was admittedly
with mine. Now that we have reconnected we are closer than ever and moreover what we
have experienced separately over the years is enriching the relationship and making
our contribution to each other's lives that much more valuable. Some relationships
require us to detour away from one another only to help guide each other on our
paths once we have returned. We don't ultimately part from one other until we have
left the confines of this world. Relationships don't actually end they become
I don't believe that any act of reconciliation is going to make us best of friends
when we reconnoiter at our friend's bar mitzvah. I do believe with a hundred percent
certainty that we are going to be civil to one another and friendly even and draw on
our once mutual affection to get along at least for the sake of our friends. I
further believe without a doubt that we will be sharing something more important
than mutual history or memories. We will be sharing the unmitigated joy of our
friends' simchas and naches and we will all be under the umbrella of the love that
they extended to us in inviting us to celebrate with them. Whatever storms may have
raged between us, we will be sheltered from them for one weekend. And we will serve
as each other's umbrellas.
In this month of introspection and retrospection, let us be grateful for the people
who have shared our pasts even if they are not the most salient part of our present.
I have reason to be grateful to everyone of those aforementioned if erstwhile
friends because each one has shared with me a joyous time, a momentous occasion and
supported me in a difficult one in ways that only your close friends can.
In this journey that we take we are each other's companions, guides and guards and
when we part ways we can do so even in the most inconstant of circumstances with a
wish for peace and that when our paths cross again, we acknowledge each other with a
warm smile of recognition and humility not one of loss and bitterness. The road is
both too short and too long to carry a grudge along with us.
As always, I hope that those with whose lives I've intersected this past year will
forgive me any unintentional (or in a moment of weakness intentional) slight or
indiscretion; That we will all be blessed with the best in the coming year and that
as we ready ourselves spiritually emotionally and physically for the days of
judgment, awe and hope, that we are blessed with peace among the nations, within
ourselves and most, most importantly with one another.
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JWR contributor Rosally Saltsman has written a novel called Soul Journey. You can see it at her website, here.
© 2009, Rosally Saltsman