a blog by Margaret Bendet

Category: Uncategorized

On Friendship

Lately, I’ve been thinking about friendship—the loving connections between friends. In recent years, I’ve become quite a loner, but only in an incidental sort of way. I enjoy alone time—and probably need to have it—but it is contact with other people that gives my life its savor.

I live alone, but I need to have a real conversation with at least one person every day. I don’t mean that it has to be a conversation of emotional discovery, but it should be spontaneous, it should be seriously helpful or perhaps creative or quite funny. My friends matter because they connect me with parts of myself that I don’t necessarily have access to on my own. And also because they offer a special kind of support.

A friend recently underwent surgery, and this week when I delivered a care package to her, I learned that the last thing she had done before leaving for the hospital was to mail me a birthday card. I had loved receiving that card, but when I understood the circumstances behind it, those good wishes became even more precious. An impressive level of thoughtfulness had gone into sending them.

As I was leaving my friend’s house, I stopped for a moment to talk with her significant other, who was sitting on her front porch, sipping a finger of (I think) scotch and watching the sun wend it way toward the horizon. He mentioned that in the Celtic tradition, it’s thought that we die twice: once when we stop breathing and a second time when the final person who knows our story takes their final breath. I found this perspective riveting; I looked it up when I got home and discovered that it’s also associated with ancient Egypt and with the British street artist Banksy, whose version is this:

I mean, they say you die twice. One time when you stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on, when somebody says your name for the last time.

What I find compelling is the implication that the matrix of our connections is woven into our very being, into our life force. I especially like the version put forward by my friend’s friend—who, by this way of seeing things, would be a part of my friend, as I would be myself. He said that it isn’t just the name that forms this fabric, it’s our stories. Our friends are the people who know and care about our stories.

They might also be members of our family. When I was a child, my maternal grandmother told me two stories from her life—real stories, stories that mattered to her—and these stories will be in my heart as long as I live. In the final sixteen years of her life, my grandmother had profound Alzheimer’s and did not herself remember her stories. I remembered them, though, and I remember them still. Because she shared her stories, a part of my grandmother lives on.

After my last posting I received an email from a beloved friend—one of my very longest-time friends—telling me that she has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. I had a number of thoughts about this, all of which I shared with her, and one of these was the pain I felt knowing that she might at some point no longer remember significant moments the two of us had together—a cramped office we’d worked in, particular conversations we’d had, a life-altering coin toss… Realizing this was like a little death for me. I have known this woman for almost six decades, and our connection has its own existence. So, as long as my mind is functioning—and, of course, this has its own uncertainties—I will remember her. In fact, I think of this woman almost every day. We met in Hawaii, and one of the times I left the islands, she gave me a crystal so that I could take Hawaii’s rainbows with me. That crystal hangs in my living room now, and whenever it bends sunlight into glowing colors on the walls and ceiling, I remember my friend and her blessing.

Let me close these thoughts on friendship with the words of David Whyte, from his superb book Consolations:

But no matter the medicinal virtues of being a true friend or sustaining a long close relationship with another, the ultimate touchstone of friendship is not improvement, neither of the other nor of the self, the ultimate touchstone is witness, the privilege of having been seen by someone and the equal privilege of being granted the sight of the essence of another, to have walked with them and to have believed in them, and sometimes just to have accompanied them for however brief a span, on a journey impossible to accomplish alone.

Five Reasons to Write Memoir

Memoir has been maligned as navel-gazing, faux fiction, self-aggrandizement, an exercise in me-me-me. The criticism is spurious. If you’re not interested in a story, don’t read it—but if that story happened to you, if it’s lodged in your memory, then there are at least five good reasons for you to write it down.

  1. It’s YOUR life. You are the star of your own life story. You could even say it’s all happening for your benefit. So many of us spend our discretionary time entertained by other people’s stories. Books, movies, TV, even local gossip are all composed of other people’s stories, real or imaginary. We spend our time with these stories in order to avoid engaging with the one story we need to understand, our own. Writing memoir is a way to explore what happened in your life, and why, and what you might learn from it.
  2. You have a unique perspective. In one of my memoir classes, a woman in her 50s wrote about a wedding photo in which she, a young bride walking down the aisle on her father’s arm, mugs the camera with her mouth open in the shape of a perfect “O.” She wrote, “Dad had just whispered to me, ‘It’s not too late.’” The woman went through with the wedding… and, later, the divorce and, much later, a shift in gender orientation that gave her story its full piquancy—a flavor only she was in a position to truly appreciate.
  3. Your stories can disappear. They already have. This is one of the reasons people give for not writing memoir in the first place. They say, “How can I write about what I can’t remember?” You can’t. But you can write about what you do remember. There is a great deal that has stayed with you, and this usually involves the people, events, places that mean the most to you. Write these stories before you lose them.
  4. There is more to glean. “The unexamined life is not worth living.” That’s strong language. Socrates isn’t saying it’s better to contemplate than not; he’s saying that if we don’t look at our lives, we might as well not live them at all. The process of looking seems itself to be the key, because no matter how self-aware we may be, there is always more to learn.
  5. The focus itself is beneficial. This might mean “medicinal,” “expansive,” “meditative”…many things. I spent the last year rewriting a memoir, and during this time I noticed that I was observing my life today with greater awareness. It’s as if more of me were present because I was actively delving into parts of my past.

There are multiple reasons not to write memoir, but the main one, I think, is not knowing where to start. This you can put aside by making a list. Ask yourself what matters most to you in your life, and write down the topics, names, events one by one, as they come up. Then take one item from that list, close your eyes, and ask yourself, What do I want to say…? Start writing.

Because of Spam

This week I’m discontinuing the “comment” function on Re-Entry. As wonderful as your comments have been, I am tired of weeding out the spam to find them. Spam outnumbers legitimate comments about five to one and outweighs them, word for word, by twenty-five times.

Most are from China—or about China—and go on and on about a book fair in Shanghai or property development in Beijing or natural gas supplies in a place named Surui.

Many are in response to the first blog, “Blackberries Are Coming On”—the column that was the inspiration for my turning on the comment function in the first place. The artist (and writer!) Deon Matzen sent me an email in response to “Blackberries,” saying how much she enjoyed the blog and that it had inspired her to write her own essay on blackberries, which she attached. Here is an excerpt:

My nephew came to visit from Montana one year when they were in season and fell in love with them. Fell in more ways than one. He picked all the berries that he could reach from the roadside. He came back to the house and asked for a ladder. My husband let him take the orchard ladder out to the street. Needless to say the best, ripest, and biggest berries were just out of reach, even from the ladder. An orchard ladder has three legs and before he knew it, he had fallen into the briar patch. He was in about 6 feet and totally entrapped by the vicious, but luscious berries. His clothes were completely caught. He was like a fly in a spider’s web and could not move or help himself out. We heard his calls and finally came to the rescue with a large plank. He practically had to disrobe to get out and almost require stitches to repair his lacerations, but he still said it was worth it just to have the pie.

How delightful is this! Comments like Deon’s, I always want to see. So, if you have a comment, please do send it to me—by email. If you don’t have my email address, go to my website (MargaretBendet.com) and find it at the bottom of the homepage. The machines that send out spam, flooding normal communication so there’s no room left for mere people, cannot manage a maneuver that complicated.

And because the point of spam is to laden other blogs with links to your own, I’ll add one more link to this entry: if you’re interested in seeing the Monty Python sketch that led to “spam” becoming the name for nuisance emails that that take up all avaialbe space and time, click here... and enjoy!

© 2024 Re-Entry

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑