I ran into a friend tonight in front of the grocery store. He looked sad. Maybe he was just tired, saying, as he had, that he had just returned home from an all day seminar in San Jose, an hour’s drive from our town. He also made a passing comment about something else that may have lent itself to his looking sad, but he quickly turned on his own mood, almost reminding himself of why he was in front of the Safeway. “It’s nothing that can’t be cured with iced cream,” or something to that effect that he said, quickly changing the subject. “So why are you here?” he continued, pushing past the obvious issue at hand.
This friend is one of those friends we have too many of: people who we meet in our adult lives, with whom we feel a connection, but for whom we never make enough time to really get to know. I wanted to ask him if everything was OK. I hate to see people unhappy. I wanted to ask what happened to lead this man who is usually so ebullient to look so preoccupied. The opportunity was there, for a brief moment, and then it was covered up by a quest for iced cream. I had obviously lost any opportunity to ask because the conversation quickly careened towards creating unrelated plans designed to allow him, and in this case, both of us to bring happiness or just plain silliness to others.
I needed to go. He obviously needed his iced cream, and the store was about to close, so we went on our ways. As I climbed into my car, the look on this man’s face, which was stuck in my short-term memory, reminded me that we all carry around our own little burdens, and we all experience, as my grandmother would say, “life’s little tragedies:” some smaller, and some much larger than others. This thought only increased my feeling that I should have tried harder with this friendship: and not necessarily on this evening.
We have so many opportunities to know people more intimately in our lives. So many moments to know people on levels much more deep than just knowing what car they drive, what schools their kids go to, and what their favorite hobby is. We have moments to know their hopes and dreams, and their fears and anxieties.
Maybe I bring this up because our family is still a relative transplant to this area. All of our extended family lives thousands of miles away, and life-long friends are just as far. Sure, Facebook and the good old telephone help reduce those distances, but nothing can replace face-to-face communication: sharing a meal, a beer, a cup of coffee, or simply a stroll in the park.
And maybe I bring this up because the older I get the more difficult I find it is to forge truly meaningful relationships with peers. Work, children, spouse, extended family, and even hobbies get in the way of scheduling time with the small handful of new people you may meet with whom you sense you might actually be able to seriously connect.
I only blame myself and my own issues for not making a greater effort: managing my kids’ lives, organizing our home, helping my wife, indulging in my own little hobbies, working occasionally, all over-shadowed by my anxieties surrounding building exposure to my writing.
But tonight I really did not do the right thing, and I feel I owe this friend an apology for this missed opportunity.