Friday, September 11, 2009

Friends, Orbital Rings and the Masters of the Universe

It seems to me that the subject the Masters of the Universe have been nudging me to think on this summer has been friends and friendship. I’ve been reunited with friends after circumstances either technological or just plain idiotic separated us for long periods of time. This has been wonderful, and I value these people in my life. Now that summer is sliding gracefully into autumn, I am looking at some other friendships that have not and are likely not to be renewed. There is a curious mix of feelings that accompany this: some confusion still, as the circumstances were such that I never had any say in anything. I was, for reasons still unknown to me, suddenly persona non-grata. There is a memory of fondness for these people. Surprisingly, there is little sadness and no anger at all. I have an amazing capacity to compartmentalize, and these folks have been shut securely away in the box I guess I need to keep them in. Mostly I don’t care. That is where what little sadness I feel comes from. I would like to feel more bereft, but I don’t really.

When I was growing up, I was never one of those girls who participated in the mean girls’ game of backstabbing and gossiping about my friends. My mother taught me very early how important friendships were. Some would just happen, but still it was important to choose carefully, and important to maintain them. She told me it wasn’t ever a good idea to have a falling out with a girlfriend over a boy. Eventually the boy would be yesterday’s news and another would come along (she was right, you know). True friends are much more rare and valuable. She taught me a very specific definition of friendship: one that counted honesty, loyalty and honor to be highly valued. Consequentially, I never had a huge “entourage”, or gang of friends, but the friends I did have were truly my friends. I was, however, quite guilty of slipshod maintenance, mainly because as a creative person, I tend to get lost in time. I could blink and realize that weeks or months have gone by. Not everyone understands or has the patience for that.

In later years, I came to think of non-romantic relationships in terms of “orbital rings”. Not because I have such an inflated opinion of myself that I think I am the sun or a nucleus or anything, but because the image makes sense for how I think of things. Those who are closest to me occupy the innermost ring; those slightly less close, the next outer ring and so on until the “acquaintance ring”. Everyone else is just out there in the space somewhere. Most of the time trouble would come from someone on a more outer ring competing with someone on an inner ring. The oddity of it was that every time, the inner ring dweller didn’t engage with the one trying to compete. For myself, I could never understand what was so great about me that would make someone want to compete in the first place, but it happened several times.

I know that this orbital competition happens for other people too. This last year, someone from a mid-way ring for both my best friend and I and whom both of us have known and been fond of for a very long time caused chaos in the universe when they decided that they could no longer abide my being on my best friend’s inner orbital ring because it was their rightful place. It was ugly. It was unnecessary. It caused a lot of people a lot of pain. In the end, the person who attempted ring-jumping was jettisoned out into the deepest reaches of space. A lot of years gone up in smoke.

When I think on the actions of this now former friend, and on the actions of the former friends who exiled me, something else my mother taught me comes to mind. She used to say “don’t expect people to sink to certain levels, but don’t be surprised when they do”. I try to keep that in mind, but sometimes I am still surprised. Maybe because I have tried to choose carefully when it comes to friends and so when things like this happen it makes me question my judgment. Maybe because despite all the evidence to the contrary in so many walks of life, I want to believe that other people have the same definitions of friendship and code that I do. I don’t know.

What I do know is this: I have reached a point in my life now where my inner orbital ring is stable. Time and experience have taught me much, and I do not take for granted those I care about and who care about me. I force myself out of the creative universe and onto terra firma to ensure that I feed and water the friendships I have. As for stability in the more outer rings? Tell the Masters of the Universe that I’m working on it.

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