Friends for Life

I’m still recovering from a four-day adventure known as ‘Loonapalooza’.  This annual trip to Loon Mountain brings together a core group of childhood friends. We gather to ski, tell stories and share belly laughs.

All of us recently turned 60.  We’ve lived long enough to know that friendship is a precious gift.  We recount exploits of our wayward youth, while being grateful that we continue to add new adventures to our memory bank.

Left to right: Rob, Clyde, Kent, Frank, Dave, Tom

Together we’ve raised children, built careers, dealt with health concerns and lost loved ones.  When we get together we don’t take it for granted.  We can still revert to Junior High bathroom humor.  Yet, we also easily move into the deep water to talk about what’s really going on in life.  The older we get the deeper and more honest our friendship becomes.

I was thinking about this when I came across an article in the Globe Magazine entitled: ‘Where Have All The Guys Gone?’ by Billy Baker.   The article points to studies that many middle-aged men face a loneliness crisis.  https://www.bostonglobe.com/magazine/2017/03/09/the-biggest-threat-facing-middle-age-men-isn-smoking-obesity-loneliness/k6saC9FnnHQCUbf5mJ8okL/story.html

The article points out what we men know.  We become busy building a career,  raising a family and oftentimes find that our connection to friends and the emotional comfort provided, falls by the wayside.  As a result we feel isolated.

A recent study by Britain’s University of Oxford presented results that most guys understand intuitively:  Men need an activity to make and keep a bond.  At the risk of over generalizing, women are generally better at making a social connection by talking and sharing, while men need a task around which to gather.

Richard Schwartz co-author of ‘The Lonely American: Drifting Apart in the Twenty-First Century’, offered this interesting comment: ‘Researchers have noticed a trend in photographs taken of people interacting.  When female friends are talking to each other, they do it face to face. But guys stand side by side, looking out at the world together.’ http://www.oprah.com/omagazine/The-Lonely-American-Book-Review

When I look at photos of our ski trips going back over thirty years, we are indeed ‘looking out’ at the world together.

The task of planning for a trip and skiing a mountain is the setting within which we renew our ties.  This past Saturday we skied with a temperature of 5 degrees below zero with wind gusts of 3o miles per hour.  Later that afternoon we savored our survival over beers.  More stories to tell.

The magazine article points to statistics that those who nurture friendships live longer, happier lives.  The answer to finding and keeping friends is making time to get together a priority.

My friend Clyde’s dad meets each week with friends well past 70 and 80 years old.  They meet early in the morning over coffee and donuts to argue politics, tell jokes, share the challenge of growing old and show pictures of grandkids.   Each time they strengthen the ties that bind.

Living well is not for the faint of heart.  Heart break and sorrow come to us all.  Laughter, joy and wonder are waiting to be claimed too.

In the beautiful film, ‘Waking Ned Divine’, a friend eulogizes a dear old  friend: ‘When we laughed we grew younger’. So it was this past weekend with ‘the boys’.  Together we grew younger and our shared memories will carry us till we meet again.

 

 

 

 

 

The Boys at 60

There’s something about turning a decade older that gives one pause. It is a time for reflection, taking stock of where you’ve been and where you hope to go. This feels particularly true as I and a group of lifelong friends move into our sixth decade.

We’ve been together since boyhood and have walked with one another through times both joyous and hard. Richard Rohr in his book ‘Falling Upward: Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life’, writes that in the first half of life we focus on our identity: Who am I? What am I good at? Where am I going? Who will go with me?

But by the second half of life we’ve experienced how fragile life can be. We’ve lost loved ones, made mistakes, dealt with health issues, had our hearts broken. Rohr writes that such painful moments raise questions we’d otherwise not ask, and offer insights we’d otherwise not have. By the second half of life we ask different questions: What do I really value? What do I truly believe in (not what others tell me)? Where do I belong?

The answers don’t come easy. Yet the insights gleaned are ours alone to claim.

My life is graced with good friends. This past week six of us gathered for our annual ski trip to Loon Mountain, NH (known as Loonapalooza). We are growing old(er) together. Each year we ski, laugh (a lot), drink (a lot), eat (a lot). And sometimes we are serious together. We’ve added the ritual of raising a glass to our great friend Larry, whom cancer took from us two years ago.

Boys of Loonapalooza

There’s a wonderful saying that ‘when we laugh, we grow younger’. On our annual ski trip (for a time) we grow younger. That’s a gift that paradoxically comes with age. To each of my friends who are turning 60 with me this year (pictured left to right: Rob, me, Frank, Dave, Clyde, Tom), I say: ‘Happy birthday. Thank you for the gift of your friendship.’ Can’t think of a better group of guys to get older with.

Outdoor Religion: Part One

The Latin for religion is re-ligio meaning to attach or re-attach. Our word ‘ligament’ is from this root. Religion in its myriad forms is intended to help us attach to a source which is greater than oneself. Since the beginning humans have collected stories that seek to describe our relationship to the mysteries of life. Rituals help us connect so that we might be transformed and transported.

In Celtic theology both pagan and Christian, there is the concept of the ‘thin place’. The Celts believe that there is a permeable membrane that separates the conscious world from the supernatural. Thin places are often found in nature where our senses are heightened. In nature we become aware of a different level of reality and are invited to consider our place within it. The island of Iona in Scotland for a thousand years has been a thin place for countless pilgrims.

photo Iona

Today many in our western culture are moving away from traditional forms of religion. A book called ‘The None Zone’ point to a trend particularly among the young, away from organized religions. Yet, the majority who say that they have no religious affiliation, consider themselves to be spiritual. By that, many refer to an openness to a source of wisdom greater than oneself. A presence that inspires and transforms.

Many whether they be religious or not, find spiritual meaning in nature. Mountains, rivers, deserts, forests, oceans, the night sky remind us that nature is complex, mysterious. Such complexity both humble us and inspire. The natural world calls us to look up and out and in so doing, to go within. Religions seek to guide us so as to tap more deeply and intentionally into this mystery that some call God/Creator/Sprit/Sacred Mystery/Other.

Mechtild of Magdeburg, the 12th century Christian mystic said: ‘The day of my spiritual awakening was the day I saw – and knew I saw – all things in God and God in all things.’ John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club put it this way: ‘I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.’

What helps you to attach or re-attach to that which you hold sacred? What rituals do you practice that help you go up and out and within?

A few days ago I went skiing at Loon Mountain, New Hampshire.

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The day was crystal clear, the temperature a bracing 10 degrees. For me it was a mystical place that blessed and transported me. Rather than simply observing I felt connected, attached to this beautiful and complex ecosystem to which we all belong. Perhaps this is what the mystics and monks of various religions aspire to, to feel apart of all that is.

Gift of Friendship

This past weekend I gathered with friends for a weekend ski trip. The six of us have known each other since High School and in some cases since elementary school. Having lived in other parts of the country for much of my adult life, these times with life-long friends are to be savored.

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We’ve lived long enough to know that friendship, both new and longtime are not to be taken for granted. On this trip we remembered our good friend Larry who died of cancer over a year ago. Larry was a graceful skier with a playful spirit and as we skied down the mountain we sensed his presence.

In gathering we were mindful of the many blessings in our lives. But we were also mindful of struggles and losses that each of us have experienced. Rather than dampening our mood we made a conscious choice to celebrate the gift of being together. We laughed and played and skied with joy.

Richard Rohr in his wonderful book,’Falling Upward: Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life’, says by the second half of life we’ve been humbled, stumbled and fallen on our nose. Our struggles may have come from poor choices but more often by circumstances beyond our control. Paradoxically says Rohr, it is when we struggle that we become most open to that which is most important. The painful times says Rohr can help clarify that which we hold most dear.

For this group of childhood friends, now in our late 50’s we have lived long enough to know that the gift of a good friendship is something to give thanks for, a gift to savor. So we gathered for our annual ski trip to Loon Mountain. We skied remembering those no longer with us and we skied with gratitude for those who remain by our side.

(Photo of ‘the boys’ left to right: Frank, Rob, Dave, Tom, Clyde, Kent)