I spent a pleasant day recently in Shipshewana, a northern Indiana town defined by surrounding Mennonite and Amish communities, and also widely known for antique and horse auctions, flea markets, country-style decor shops, and restaurants with an Amish atmosphere and flavorful meals served family style.
Now I am, like many men, more of a hunter than gatherer when it comes to shopping. I generally know what I’m hunting and stalk it. This day I sought a seasonal decoration for my office and fallish place settings for our table, and that was about it. Too much loitering and gathering can promote whining like a hangry bored child fussing for an overdue nap (perhaps a bit of embellishment there, you’d have to ask my wife). It was a successful hunt for both items on my list.
And the aromas! Scented candles in charming shops, cinnamon apples from bakeries, oak wood fires under huge kettles popping caramel corn, even the “bouquet” of road apples from horse drawn buggies everywhere! All delightfully mingling with the fragrance of cool fall breezes. It reminded me of folklore stories about trading posts on the prairie, with families gathering supplies ahead of bitter winters, perhaps enjoying one last trip to town before winds and snows enveloped the vast grasslands.
But the absolute highlight of the day? Witnessing togetherness.
Sitting with my sister eating lunch, I commented to her: “There are so many groups of women here, of all ages, laughing and enjoying themselves. I love seeing groups of women enjoying each other’s company. They understand togetherness.” I think she was a bit surprised by my observation, but, sometimes I blurt out such private thoughts. Some I imagined were work friends, or extended families, or church groups, or sisters, or craft circles, or classmates, or neighborhood friends. The women I know work hard at most every task imaginable and take care of others and each other. A lot. And it is pretty important they know how to enjoy each other’s company and have fun, with or without men. Women seem to “do friendship” more easily than men. You see, when you ask women who they are, they tend to tell you about their relationships. When you ask men, they tend to tell you about what they do.
One of the most common complaints about what is
missing in our lives? Friendship and support.
I can illustrate that in my own experience.
Seventeen years ago my father died unexpectedly. My grief was profound and intense. His funeral was held 75 miles away, as I had lived in five different cities and two states since moving many years before. I took a thorough inventory of my life, as often such times demand, and realized I had so committed myself to serving others and developing professional relationships, I had neglected to build my own support system. To that point I had finished three degrees, ordination, sought ministerial, professional, academic, and collegial respect, then licensure as a Psychologist, provided for my family, but had neglected one important thing – me. I was lost.
It was not self-pity, but rather a sobering confession when I told my wife one day after my father’s funeral, “I imagine you could find a few hundred people over the course of my life who if asked, could honestly say they respected me for at least one thing that I do, but at my greatest time of need, do I have my own circle of close friends?” I realized my life was chronically out of balance. I have since invested significant intentional energy, effort, risk, and time growing my own support system and in the past years have found many wonderful acquaintances, friends, and close friends. I name my close friends by a long title: “people who are thoroughly unimpressed with what I do, but love me for who I am.” Do you understand the difference? I had not.
I have never considered myself a shallow person, but I have been a lonely person. I do not consider myself in any way unfortunate, but I have at times lacked my own necessary circle of support.
With that brief bit of context, you can understand my joy witnessing other’s joy in togetherness, support, companionship, and love for one another on such a festive day. It was a great day with my sister too, hunting or gathering or whatever!
If you are lonely or depressing or anxious or grieving, I hope you will be intentional, diligent and unrelenting in finding and building fellowship. Wow. It isn’t always easy! But it is possible. And it is important for your balance and well-being.
© 2015 Dr. Daniel L. Baney