The Tides that Bind Us

The typical calm the crickets chirp into my solemn street after sundown evades me as I settle in to face a restlessness that sound cannot soothe.  Tomorrow, my little Fit makes its first trek laden with my boxed-up career to a new classroom in a new school in a new district.  Despite more than a decade of teaching, a combination of excitement and fear stirs with uncertainty at all the unknowns that classroom will hold.

It’s times like these where I miss my mom’s encouragement.  I never imagined our daily calls would end, much less that I would initiate a time-out with my lifelong best friend.  Relations with my parents have been rocky since my engagement ended; I think I broke all of our hearts, to some extent, in his family and in mine.  While trying to pick up the pieces of my life following the happily ever after that never was, I just wasn’t strong enough to carry the burden of their broken hearts, too.

Recently, I attempted a conversation with my mother that only served to further my resolve that I am still not strong enough.  The desperate need for my parents’ pride and approval has motivated me all my life, and the absence of it now has forced me to take inventory of the dynamics in our relationships, ultimately finding my dependence on pleasing them has crippled my self-development. From childhood, my dream life was a mirror image of my mother’s across the decades.  I have always believed what they believed about everything from the right way to think to the right way to live.  A moral, Christian perspective shaped my formation, and that should be a good thing.

Most of the time, it is.  I’ve internalized high standards and set high expectations for myself.  I’ve been a classic overachiever, almost certain to excel at new job like the one I’m starting. I like fixing problems, even when they aren’t my own, and I sleep better when all is right with the world.  I’d like to think my friends consider me generous and empathetic, which are good qualities… except in addition to giving you the shirt off of my back, I’ll tell you how you lost yours in the first place and what to do to keep this one covering all.  When we love people, it’s human nature to want the best for them.  But what happens when our best isn’t theirs, when perspectives collide?

I was living in Nashville and was teaching my first batch of bright young minds when my best friend from high school ended our friendship in an email.  At the time, I couldn’t believe what I was reading.  Twelve years has diluted my memory of the words themselves, but the sentiment remains.  I’d always been there for her, giving her support and advice.    I’ll call her Jasmine, since her fiery independence both dumbfounded me and earned my respect.

Jasmine knew who she was and what she believed.  Yes, I was there for her, giving her support and advice even when I wasn’t asked.  When that email showed up in my inbox twelve years ago, a great injury was incurred.  I could tell Jasmine anything.  But the same wasn’t true for her I learned when she lived with me in a one bedroom apartment in Music City for a year during college.  I recall one conversation on my patio where she admitted to several secrets she’d been keeping since high school that made me wonder if I knew her at all.  The email that would come the following year explained why: she was tired of my judgment and condemnation.

For years, I’ve mourned that friendship but never understood what it was that I had done to bring it to an end.  Jasmine was trying to live her best life, and despite my best intentions, the advice and admonishments were incompatible with her perspective.  I loved her and I miss her still, that sweet voice that could still a sunset into submission, and I find peace now that the words in that decade-old email finally make sense.  I couldn’t see it then.  Then, I was right.

Now, I see the damage I did in that relationship because I thought Jasmine’s life would be better if she’d only take my advice.  I could confide in her without fear of disapproval, but the same wasn’t true for her.  I see her face pop up on my Facebook news feed now with her children, and clearly Jasmine didn’t need my counsel to build a beautiful life for herself.  The anger and hurt that email set in motion have no power now.  There is peace in understanding, even if it’s too late to say, “I’m sorry,” and start over.

I’m not sure that I would be a better friend yet, anyway.  They say acknowledging the problem is half the battle.  If I’d been a real best friend, Jasmine wouldn’t have lied or kept secrets from me out of fear of facing my moral standards.  There must be a balance, a respect that transcends differences in opinions, a dynamic that encourages honesty and fosters openness, I just haven’t found the line yet.  I thought that I loved her by pushing her toward my best for her life, but being overbearing eventually drove her away.  We choose our friends.  Why would Jasmine keep company with someone who consistently made her feel badly about the choices she was making?

I stole away for an hour today to Fort Monroe beach, just to be alone with my thoughts and creation.  The tide was coming in, and I had to move my towel out a few yards back to stay dry.  Long after I left, I know the tide receded.  That place where the water meets land changes all day long, sometimes high and sometimes low, but you can trust the dynamic of that cycle.  Perhaps if the boundaries in my friendship with Jasmine has been more like the shifting tides, she wouldn’t have to take the shirt off my back without bracing herself for the lecture to come.  Love is a moving force, like the ocean water, and it can as equally cultivate growth and life when balanced as it can destroy cities when it’s not.

Fort

Beach days are almost over, and while I’d love a good pep talk from Mom about moving in to my new classroom tomorrow, I need to believe in myself.  The bottom line of every communication from my parents since the great break-up is that I will not be happy or successful unless I choose the Christian path I was raised to follow.  I believed what they believed all my life.  Now, I’m questioning that.  I’m questioning faith and God and relationships.  I want to know what I believe.  I want to be the kind of friend that people confide in for good counsel without fear of chastisement.

It’s been a while since I wrote about my Fairy Godmother who works at my old school, but we’ve been making the most of the last of summer’s Fridays by sunbathing and talking about everything under the sun.  I’m grateful our friendship continues, but most grateful to discover that she is that kind of friend.  She has faith and high expectations for herself and for me, but like the tide that washes over our toes when we’re chatting in the sun and surf, there’s a healthy dynamic that encourages growth. There’s just one more beach Friday left, but I think my friendship with my Fairy Godmother is just getting real.

This summer, I’ve accepted that everyone who is human lies.  We lie if we object to the previous statement.  We lie to protect ourselves and others.  We justify little white lies out of love and good intentions. If Jasmine were in my life today, I wouldn’t want my impending words of judgment be yet another obstacle that prevents her from being open with me. Jasmine didn’t know what to do in the hurricane of our friendship except jump ship, and a dozen years later, I don’t blame her.

This new classroom I move into tomorrow will be my home away from home.  While I’ll miss seeing into my Fairy Godmother at work most days, the potential for new friendships is an opportunity to put into practice what I’ve been learning, to be the kind of friend I want to have… and next summer is full of Fridays for us to return to our spot, toes in the sand, enjoying each other’s company.

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