Reflections on Friendships

This post was written a few days ago and I feel it is time to publish it. Please disregard all grammar mistakes thus far. I type these posts on my phone, many times late at night sweating profusely in a tent tired from a long day in the field. Revisions are not often an option. Thank you.

This evening I have a bit of reflection bouncing around inside my head. My daughter and I were texting earlier in my trip, maybe around 4 weeks ago. During our message exchange she asked the question “ Have you made any cool friends yet?” I paused at that question because I am now 46 and can’t remember the last time I was ever asked that question. Honestly, what a simple question. It seemed so common place to my 17 year old daughter yet so foreign to me.

This has really stuck with me since then. Why not ask that question to anyone? How should I respond? I am surrounded by multi-aged and multi-generational people. Is this the environment in which I can say I have made friends? At this point in my life, can I truly have more than just acquaintances or professional friends? People with similar levels of professionalism, career longevity and familial ties, do not readily seek out new friendships. We are so wrapped up in simply navigating life that the thought does not cross one’s mind. Forty something’s do want friends, both men and women, but if there is no innocence to ask the question “have you made any cool friends yet?”, would we seek out a new friend?

So I ponder the question asked by my offspring. Have I made fiends? New ones? Scientifically or logically, the field school fosters friendship as I did not previously know a single person here at the field school. I have spent several weeks with these humans with minimal electronics, tight spaces, shared experiences, and equal discomfort. Technically I have new friends here, yet the definition of a friend is deeply personal and varies so drastically between humans that they would not have the same criteria. Perhaps my own definition is too common place.

As to the second part of my daughter’s question: are these people here at Base Camp cool? Beyond a doubt they are cool. Each individual at Koobi Fora has a deep passion for new information and actively search for a problem to be solved. I believe the quote from Carl Sagan sums up the bipeds mulling around the Turkana Basin: “ Somewhere something incredible is waiting to be known.” Bottom line: the students and staff are seriously BA! Two criteria met yet there is still a barrier that seems in place. Could it simply be my traditional midwestern male upbringing presenting itself as a macho “I’m fine” response to the question?

Really, do I have an excuse? Should I ignore or dismiss it as a silly question. No, I should not ignore it. Why not admit friendships, new ones, that would only enhance my life? I think we should all be asking my daughter’s question, especially to anyone over the age of 30, to be reminded of something we have forgotten.

When do we forget the art of making friends? Elementary is prime territory, where people move into new friendships as easily as breathing. They are simple companionships with little to know barriers. So when do the barriers come up: middle school, high school, college, or just late in life? Risk is a major barrier in the pursuit and acquisition of a companion. How many layers of forgetting are put in place, directly or indirectly proportional to risk? As we move farther away from making friends, the mental connection to our elementary-selves stretches so thin it breaks and we forget.

Forgetfulness can’t lead to a simple risk-reward calculus, or all friendships would be formulaic, more robotic than human. Humanity is one quality needed to maintain a relationship and grow in order to reach a mature, sustainable connection. Can the humane lower this risk threshold? Can the act of allowing doubt or accepting hurt feelings be the raft that traverses one of the barriers? I want to remove the perceived risk of making new friends but my years on earth have allowed those barriers to expand into a pathetic excuse to dismiss my daughter’s question.

We all have strength to break through our walls: so that is what I will do. I will accept the question and answer…yes. Yes I have made some cool friends. I will allow the complicated layers of risk and the growth needed for a long term or even short term friendship. The author Jamie Ford summed up an old friendship where verbal communication becomes limited, similar to work colleagues. Ford states “After a lifetime of nods, frowns and stoic smiles, they were both fluent in emotional shorthand.” I imagine not only family members exhibiting this behavior, but old men who have been neighbors (friends, enemies, competitors) for decades. They wait each day outside for the paper, the mail or school kids to pass by, then catch a glimpse of each other, nod or simply smile. Years prior they may have frowned upon the other’s lawn care skills or gardening practices without speaking of the friendship that has grown in silence.

I can confidently say, I have made some cool friends; even the early morning nod or the middle of the night pathway passing grunt where our headlamps illuminate shoe-covered feet stumbling across cobblestone. The pathway and feet are a simple humane link to making new friends. The stones at Koobi Fora Base Camp continue to make cool friends, season after season. Now I smile in the night when I hear shuffling feet across a cobblestone pathway and the words of a 17 year old echo in my head.