In the bardo

My family moved every 4 years or so when I was a kid. We’d move into a new house, and spend years fixing it up over summer break and winter holiday. (I say “we” inclusively – my Dad was super handy, and my mother has always had a strong eye for design and a sense of adventure in color and pattern. My brother and I tried to stay out of the way/not step on loose nails or splinters, with varying degrees of success.) Many of the moves were within our school district; both Mom and Dad were teachers, and they understood the importance and impact of a school community.

We made one big move, when I was a high-school freshman, from the tiny valley community we lived in, in the nook of the Chemung and Susquehanna Rivers; to a western Pennsylvania college town north of Pittsburgh. We moved on April 1, 1988; when my pals tried to convince me that it was an April Fool’s joke, I flatly responded that everything my family owned was in boxes; we were going somewhere I was sure.

There was a specific phenomenon that happened with regularity around each move. Once it became public knowledge that we were moving – out of the neighborhood, out of the school district, out of the area – there was always someone who stepped forward, stepped into my life in a different way. It was a different person in each instance, and to my great embarrassment I’ve lost some of their names. But what I can remember is this:

  • They were not close friends prior to the move, nor was the friendship a defining point of my life post-move. It was largely a transitional, time-limited phenomenon.
  • They were quietly kind, allowing me to talk when I needed to, but as happy to distract or entertain.
  • They were present; phone calls (occasionally…this was not the era of multiple phone lines or cell phones), walks around the neighborhood, letters.

The extension of this person’s time and attention, this gift, almost always happened on the leaving edge, rather than the receiving edge. Once I arrived at the new school/neighborhood, I was more actively trying to figure out the social dynamics, as well as the new ‘me’ that I planned to be therein. But pre-move, when time was finite yet strangely elastic? That was the time that these small, potent friendships blossomed.  I’m not sure that the person wasn’t still there or available to me post-move, or that I wasn’t interested in that relationship, but I might guess that we were both better served by each other in that limbo, and that when time righted itself we didn’t need each other quite so much.

I’m finding parallels to this process in our current, Covidian world. In this new stillness, this new contemplative state that we’ve been forced into, I have found several people quietly stepping into frame…to share something silly, to offer congratulations and condolences, to offer their time and attention as I stammer through something I find difficult to verbalize.

It has been a joy.

I’m grateful for these unforced, spontaneous, caring conversations which have happened by post and social media and Zoom and FaceTime. I’m grateful for these unknowing guides, and their help through this transitory state…and I’m happy to return this favor.


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