On long-distance friendship
You guys. My friend Gabriella is coming to visit from New York this weekend and I CAN’T WAIT. I can’t wait to pick her up from the bus station and give her a big huge hug and hear her delightful laugh and concoct a delicious homemade meal together and share my cozy cloud of a bed and chat the night away. Friendship’s the best.
But long-distance friendship—it’s not the best. It’s hard. I’ve suffered through my fair share of it over the years. My best friend from college lives in Seattle. Friends from my missionary days in Denver. Sweet cousins in Maryland. Oh, and long-lost friends from my six months abroad, scattered about England and Germany, Australia and Singapore. Often, I’m sad to say, these friendships are relegated to the realm of nostalgia and distant memories, only occasional, long overdue catch-ups, when our schedules across time zones align just right.
I’m a big fan of quality time. I like walking (or running!) side by side. Looking people in the eye, hugging hello and goodbye. Opening my door to friends new and old, bringing a steaming pot to the table, setting places and lighting candles and being filled by good conversation. I like just plain living life together, enjoying that treasured comfort of a dear friendship that grows deep in the silence.
But there’s something about my suitcase heart (that I’ve mused about here and here) that so longs to keep those old, faraway friends close. So, I write. I write and I call, I visit and host. I wonder how they’re doing, and I keep up on social media. I make long phone calls on car rides and I pen long letters on rainy weekend days. I pack bags and hop on buses and trains, then I sweep my floors and wash my sheets for long-awaited guests. It’s a coming and going, a wishing and waiting, this long-distance friendship business. It is hard, but it is good.
And it’s an art, I find. I think of those breathless beginnings of overdue phone calls (You first! No, you!) with friends I haven’t spoken to, sometimes, in many months. It’s a challenge to distill such life in a packaged summary, so I often start here: How is your day going? Tell me about you right now. There will be events to report and memories to share, but first, how do you come? It’s the present joys and nagging worries and fleeting details of the moment—that’s the stuff of life. That’s meant to be treasured. We don’t have to have news to be worth a conversation.
So often it all feels like a balancing act. We walk the tightrope of life, swayed by the winds of change, caught between duty and desire, nestled in the present but planning and dreaming and worrying in the face of what’s next. Nurturing these long-distance friendships, I find, steadies me in the delicate mix of it all. Through letters and phone calls and visits, I get to zoom out, breathe different air, receive anew the gift of this person I seldom rub shoulders with. Yes, I hear and share exciting news, give and receive cursory timelines of months gone by. But so too do I cut right to the heart, swiftly and boldly. I don’t carve out an hour or afternoon or weekend for idle chatter. I come prepared to share from the depths and invite the same from a kindred spirit. These friendships call me to greater self-knowledge, to simple sacrifices of time and comfort, to love.
And so it goes. I’ll keep up my letter-writing and calling and visiting out of love for those many friends who are states and oceans and time zones away. Hard it most certainly is. But worth it? Oh, yes. Most especially when I get to enfold that faraway friend in a warm, welcoming hug. Gabriella can’t get here too soon.