There are different types of friends. Some friends are what the Celtic people call anam cara. These friends know each other so well and on such a deep level that no amount of time or distance can prevent them from knowing each other’s soul-felt thoughts. All conversations between them are as though they are in the same room, experiencing the same thing; regardless of how many cell towers the signal has to bounce off, they experience a deep and constant connection. Such is the friendship I have shared with Cindy for over fifty years.
Sometimes we are fortunate to form a friendship bond with someone who, for whatever reason, is not in our lives for very long, but the time that they are is a very special one. Such is the friendship I had with Joe.
One of the first things that I did after I got settled into the house in Arizona was to paint the front door red. It was my statement of my embracing all the abundance, monetary and emotional, that I welcomed into my new life. The morning after I painted the door, there was an unexpected knock on it. I opened it to find a petite wise-woman standing on my front porch with a loaf of zucchini bread straight from the oven and compliments on the color of the door. She introduced herself as the one who lived right across the street, and I invited her in while I made some tea. Marcie and I sat and talked for a long time; she told me about the area and how she came to be there.
Newly married, she and her husband left Illinois in a Model A Ford, drove to the Grand Canyon for their honeymoon, and never went back. Just a couple of hours south of the Canyon, they found the Verde Valley and saw no reason to leave. Ultimately, they built the house she continued to live in since her husband’s passing, and sometimes her son would come and stay when he wasn’t working in Japan. Their friends came and built the house that I had just bought. They all went up to the mountains near Flagstaff and got seedlings when the Forest Service was thinning the National Forest. There were six on her property and four on mine. The great height that they had reached attested to the years that had gone by since they had been planted. She gave me advice on what would work well in the garden, and told me to be on the lookout for the one-legged Road Runner that she had partially tamed. She knew that he was coming up on to my deck and preening in the reflective glass on the sliding door.
At some point a few months later, Marcie’s son, Joe, came back from Japan for a few weeks. We met and struck up a neighborly friendship before he returned to Japan. A few months after that, he was back again, this time for the duration of the time that it would take to ready Marcie’s house for sale and move her back to Illinois to be nearer her family.
As good friendships are wont to do, ours developed slowly over shared experience and long talks over glasses of good wine. One of the first bonding moments came when we realized that I had been the one to help him cross the border into Canada during the Vietnam War. I was working with a group that did just that, and thanks to my dual identification as an American with Canadian Landed Immigrant status, I was the one to drive across the border more often than others would. He had remained in Winnipeg, and raised his daughter alone after her mother walked out saying she never wanted to have a child. When amnesty was given to those who chose Canada over the War, Joe remained in Winnipeg until his daughter was on her own.
After a particularly bad monsoon storm, during which I was in Sedona having dinner and could see the storm cloud from across the Valley, I came home to find the area looking like the aftermath of a tornado. I wound my way around fallen trees and flooded streets and finally made it home. Before I was out of my car in the garage, Joe had come over make certain that I was safe. He told me that he had almost broken into the house to see that Fraser, my Australian Shepherd, was okay when the storm was at its fiercest. He had gone out in the storm and moved the tree that had come down in my yard and fallen across the road. Along with my profuse thanks and a glass of wine, I gave him a key to my house.
He continued to work on Marcie’s house while he worked with a local construction company, and had weekly appointments with me for bodywork to help heal the damage caused by the constant heavy work. Once Marcie’s house was ready and on the market, she went back to Illinois. Joe stayed to sell the house and then he would be on his way back to Canada. In the months that it took to for the house to find its buyer, Joe and I developed a regular routine of his weekly bodywork sessions and at least one other evening a week when he would come over for dinner. He helped Kyle with a construction project for a science class; I cooked extra food and put it in his fridge; he noticed a few loose shingles on my roof and cleaned the gutters while he had the ladder out to fix the shingles. And so life went between us for nearly a year.
One evening, while Kyle was under the influence of a particularly aggressive phone call from Mike, I took a wine glass from the cupboard and knocked on Joe’s front door, saying that I needed to “borrow” a glass of wine. As we sat in his living room, talking of my frustrations with Mike, Joe calmly asked if I had ever tripped over a vacuum cord while vacuuming. When I answered that of course I had, (hasn’t everyone?) he asked me if I got mad or frustrated at the vacuum when it happened. “The vacuum is just being a vacuum,” he said. “There’s no reason to get mad at it; it didn’t actively try to trip you with the cord. It’s just in its machine state and has no consciousness. Mike hasn’t the consciousness to realize what he is doing, how he is affecting Kyle. Getting angry with him does as much good as getting angry at the vacuum cleaner.”
That’s when I realized how much I loved Joe.
He was on his way to Canada, though. There was no room for anything more than the deep friendship that we had. I didn’t want to suffer the heartache when he left, and I certainly did not want to be the reason he stayed; he was too ready to be away from the desert. At the end of the year that it took to finish and sell the house, Joe left some things in my garage that he couldn’t fit in to the truck. One of those things was a telescope that had been his father’s. I had the best time looking at the rich, clear Arizona skies over the next year until Joe returned for what he had left behind.
As we all sat around the dinner table, it was as though he had never been gone. Too soon the evening was over, and I helped him pack the telescope and load the other things in to his truck. I didn’t hug him good-bye. I was sad all over again at his leaving, and I let it stop me from hugging him. It was a great lesson in the body’s ability to respond on a somatic (full mind-body) level to an emotional situation. My arms hurt, physically ached, for days after he left.
Years later, with the advent of Facebook, I found Joe online. He had just moved from Canada to Australia with his new life partner. Marcie was still in Illinois, but so far in to dementia that she had not recognized him the last time he had gone to see her. He was a grandfather by a couple of years, and he wrote about how hard it had been for him to leave his daughter and grand-daughter, but his partner’s work took them to Brisbane. He said that he had tried to get in touch with me a few years earlier, but I had changed my email address. We wrote back and forth every once in a while. He thanked me for reminding him of some of the spiritual conversations that we had had; he was “needing to remember some things” he said. Joe was quiet for a while; he didn’t post anything and didn’t answer any emails that I sent to him. And far too soon, I read that he had gone back to Canada in just enough time to bid farewell to his daughter and grand-daughter. I suppose it was cancer, I never really knew. What I did know was that I mourned him as though he had been in my life consistently throughout those years. It’s sad to have to say good-bye to special people; especially when you don’t really get to say good-bye.