The Friendship Reflex

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I made a comment a few months ago, something jokey about things I’ve learned over the years about sharing (and over-sharing). Stuff I learned the hard way, you know. Lessons.

One of those was to never write about dreams. I’ve done it. Everybody who writes has done it, at one time or another, because humans are storytellers and these are very interesting stories to us, our weird dreams.

And I swear—and I don’t know, but I swear—no one else, even the most loyal reader or listener, will be interested. It’s the nature of dreams. They’re subjective journeys taken solo. Describing my dreams would be like describing the various rocks I stepped over on a hike, I think. And that’s how the dreams of others read or sound to me.

My daughter took offense at this. Apparently she tells her amazing dreams to a good friend, who is fascinated by them, according to her. Well, sure. This isn’t biology. There are exceptions, plenty I’m sure. Just a generalization.

Not that dreams aren’t useful to bounce off of. A couple of lines about a mysterious dream can be an elegant and intriguing entryway into a story. I’m just saying. All of those rocks on the trail? Not that interesting unless you’re the hiker.

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I had a lucid dream yesterday, one in which I knew I was asleep and dreaming. I just sat down for a moment, closed my eyes, and began dreaming big time, mostly about trying to get someone in my family to wake me up. I haven’t had one of those in a long time.

It’s tempting to attribute a spontaneous nap to the brain taking the wheel, deciding that rest is needed and our conscious selves are slacking off on health maintenance. I must have needed it, we say, and it’s hard to argue with that.

Unless you’re a depressive, of course. Those of us with enough episodes under our belts get suspicious of sleep, for good reason. When depression has been particularly active, I’ve had both versions of sleep response—sleeping too much and not sleeping enough. Spontaneous afternoon naps are signals of something, that’s for sure; I just have maybe some more options to consider than some.

But I’ll take it and I did. The dreaming was just a weird side effect. Sleep is a good thing these days, I think.

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My sick friend, who’s been hospitalized for the past week for some buffing up, to treat an infection, and to begin chemotherapy in a hospital setting, might be coming home tomorrow. He might not; I had a discussion with one of his physicians the other day, explaining my concerns. He’d definitely be happier here and that’s where I’d want him, but he ended up in bad shape the last time we tried this so I worry.

Irony abounds, I get that. I was restless and looking at Lent, and I decided (as I at least think about every year) to try some changes. I decided to mostly stay out of other peoples’ business, in a nutshell. Clean my own house, etc.

And, of course, I end up seriously immersed in another life, intimately immersed. I don’t find causality anywhere; I don’t think I disturbed the field and brought this down upon myself by daring God to help me become a better person. I didn’t dare anyone, first of all. I just wanted to stay away from Facebook.

If at the end of this, though, both by Easter and by the time his medical problems settle down into chronic and not acute, there’s been something gained, something learned, it won’t be about me.

I find little nobility in doing what has to be done. Friendship is a choice, but illness isn’t, or not usually. This has all been reactive on my part, and while I’m not correcting anyone who wants to paint me into a picture of sacrifice and duty, I don’t really pay attention. Stuff happens, this happened. I would have handed off the job to someone else, a family member or another friend, without a problem. This wasn’t a Lenten project. This was an emergency.

You want to know how I think about it? I think of it as a reflex, a friendship reflex. A human reflex, maybe, if we can stop whatever we’re doing long enough to remember we’re human.

And what I find interesting is that it appears to be contagious, like a yawn. Other friends of mine are stepping up, checking in, asking about how they can help. I mentioned to a close friend the other night that one of the things I worried about was the expense, which feels trivial in the big picture but adds up, already over a thousand bucks of medications, car rentals, gas, food, etc. I wouldn’t be able to keep this up, I noted, obvious and really just an observation.

Now a check has been written. Cars sit in garages with my name on them, just waiting to be borrowed if needed. Cards come in the mail. My community gathered around, as communities do.

Makes you wonder. Makes me wonder. There’s a domino effect, or so it feels, to pitching in. I’m pretty sure I’m not going to feel like a better human being when this settles down; I have a feeling I’ll mostly be relieved, exhausted, and maybe wishing I’d done things differently, better.

But I’m going to be even more in awe of what we can do together, with just a little nudge of compassion. I gave my friend some help when he desperately needed it, as one does after 30 years of friendship. It’s the other people, the ones who don’t know him but now speak his name, bring him up, ask how he’s doing. I’ve given him some rides and brought him strawberry ice cream, but he’s really been sustained by the kindness of strangers, and that feels like Lent to me.

Also, I went downstairs and rearranged his room to make it more comfortable for him. Got rid of a lot of trash from under the bed, vacuumed, moved stuff around. I cleaned my own house, in other words. This appears to be working.

Chuck SigarsComment