Wednesday, June 24, 2015

It's Time to Stop the Bleeding: A Manifesto on Friendship

I'm gonna need some help, South Florida. We're losing the good ones.

As a native South Floridian, which is kind of a novelty, there is one conversation I have with
people all the time. It goes like this:

Normal people: So do you ever get used to this heat?
Me: Yes.

Of course there's more to the story, but I know that generally people aren't really interested in how I, personally, deal with the oppressive weather. They just want to make the unique observation that I live in a place that can feel hotter than the surface of the sun. I assume it would be like living in New York City and getting asked if you see famous people all the time, but less glamorous. Maybe it's more like living in LA and being asked about the traffic.

But there is another conversation that happens way too often, and it's one that breaks my heart, every time.

Normal people: We're moving. (Other variations: Our 5-year-plan is to move away; We can't wait to get out of here; We vacationed in XYZ place last week and we're thinking about living there; the list goes on.)
Me: Yeah. I know.

And I do know. Before a plan is voiced, I know that they've got a foot out the door. It's a sixth sense that develops after years of hearing the same things over and over again. It's an acute ability to spot a pattern. And as hard as I try to set it aside and just love people while they're here, knowing that their sights are set elsewhere taints the relationship because, frankly, I can't spare the emotions.

Unless it's a job transfer, the reasons are ALWAYS the same. And they're valid. It IS hot here. People ARE generally nicer other places. It IS important and helpful to live near family. It's expensive, our schools are struggling, swimsuit weather, all the time = beach body pressure, all the time. Our sports teams flounder, our culture is questionable, there are nude ladies on the top of every cab in town.

Friends, I want you to know: We know. We get it. We're raising our kids here, too, and we wince at those Solid Gold signs every time. Just like you do.

But how is it ever going to get any better, if all the good people leave?

The thing is, I don't buy those as reasons for leaving. Those are greener-grass issues. What I do buy: Lack of community.

What I now believe is that people who choose to leave do so not because they don't want to meet their demise in the Publix parking lot (valid, but I'd like to point out that those aren't natives trying to run you over).

People choose to leave because no one has convinced them to stay.  They leave, because they have nothing to lose. They can imagine starting over, because they're not leaving a piece of their heart behind.

I write from a unique perspective, which is as a person in South Florida who is well- and deeply-connected. I have relationships here so important to me that I would sooner pose for one of those Solid Gold ads for extra cash than move away to somewhere more affordable. So maybe it's easy for me to sit here and rant about all the people we've seen pack up over the years.

But I want you to understand: it has taken 15 years to get to this point.


When we first moved here after college, I wasn't "moving home." I actually had no friends still in town, and everyone we knew was my parents' age. So we spent a lot of time with mom & dad, which was a neat time for us, but that didn't satisfy all of our needs as a young married couple. We dreamed a lot about where we'd go if it made sense - the grass was greener EVERYWHERE than here. We tried to connect - we joined a small group in our giant church, only to discover that all of those people were already somehow related to each other and didn't have an interest in getting to know us - or even in recognizing us on Sunday.

But then: A family friend who was a little ahead of us in life stage gave us a tremendous gift, which has taken on new meaning for me 14 years later.

She gave us friends.

She has always been in the business of matchmaking. A well-connected South Floridian herself, she has a masterful ability to see someone's needs and put them in touch with someone who might be able to meet them.

So when she set us up on a blind date with our first friends, it was love at first sight. They became family, because we were all here together, in this weird place. We went through some huge milestones together - first kids, first home purchases, new jobs. In time, our first friends moved away, and even though we knew it was coming, it felt like ripping off a Band-Aid. But faithful God saw that coming and had moved us to a smaller church where we had already begun growing our circles and building relationships that now, after 15 years in the same neighborhood, blur the lines between friendship and blood.

When people tell us they're moving, I used to feel responsible. I assumed it was because I wasn't a good enough ambassador for this crazy place, I wasn't welcoming enough or hospitable enough or loving enough. I, personally, didn't make enough effort toward getting them to stay. By not drawing them into our own community before they set their sights on the greener grass, I'd failed. And I assumed that they'd leave, grumbling about how all they'd wanted was a friend and Amy just didn't come through.

Because it's all about me, and my ability to FIX EVERYTHING.

But what I have now realized is the wisdom shared by my friend 14 years ago. She understood that it was not her responsibility to be all things to all people. She, as a working mom of three homeschooled kids with her own established community, wasn't in a place to be the friend that I needed. She could have added more to her busy schedule, found sitters for her kids and neglected existing friendships to take me to lunch, mentor me, try to bring me into their world so that I would just feel like we had some friends, but it would have been at significant cost to her and not, ultimately, satisfying to either of us, regardless of how much we enjoyed each other's company. It didn't make her too busy for me, or aloof or not interested. It meant she was wise. She was protecting what God had already given her, and using her God-given gifts and placement to help us.

She knew what she had to offer - her connections - and she freely gave. By removing herself from the equation, she freed us to connect with the people who were exactly what we needed.

And now that I'm in her position, it's what I have to give, too. The relationships I cling so closely to, the kind that everyone desires deep down, have taken a really long time to build, and they have been messy and intentional and full of dry spells and painful and fun and filled with grace and all with people who stayed. It can't happen if you don't stay, wherever you are. And those relationships can't be maintained, if we all try to be all things to all people, because someone is going to get left behind.

So here's the story, South Florida, you lovely bunch of weirdos. We are losing too many good ones, and I can't be the only one fighting. Step up. Be nice. Make a new friend today, or make a new match today. Don't assume everyone else is at the party without you.

And if you're planning to leave...maybe don't tell us. Give us a chance to show you the real us - not the us we save for people who are sticking around. We might just change your mind. And if we don't, I pray that wherever you land, you're able to stay, because that's what it takes.


Levi Muller said...

Nicely written, Amy. Community is so important. Maybe those grass is greener people will come back after they realize it gets to a similar shade of brown where they're going.

amyeye said...

Funny--I feel the same way about Boston, a very transient city. I'm tempted to ask people if they have a mortgage when I meet them, because if they rent, chances are they will move away in a couple years and I will have to say goodbye to them! I hate losing the "good ones." Great post!

Tina T. said...

A friend from HS visited us this weekend. It was Laurel Festival weekend and he saw us interact with the many, many folks we know here; it has been 35 years. He told us we were never going to leave, which is probably true, as we are so woven into the tapestry of the place. I know how you feel about people leaving, Amy, because whenever anyone leaves our tiny bit of Eden, it makes a gigantic hole in the tapestry. So between Greenwich Village and Wellsboro, it appears we are situated for life. Love, Aunt Tina

traciebee said...

We left the sunny beaches of South Florida for points North (Tallahassee/PA/TN) nearly 20 years ago. My definition of "hot" has been redefined, having lived in West Tennessee for 11 years. I can show you HOT!

More significantly, the sense of community, settling down and settling in, investing, nurturing, and staying put, is a lifestyle. We have had opportunity to go elsewhere, and we have chosen to stay. I love that Jackson is the personification of "4 Degrees of Kevin Bacon"--we don't need 6 Degrees here! What fun it is to go into a restaurant, grocery store, or Walgreen's, and see kids that Justin coached in soccer or basketball, friends from co-op, or college students that have become part of our family. It takes effort and sacrifice. What keeps us in Jackson is not the bevy of cultural opportunities, the weather, or the cuisine scene--it's the people. The people with whom we have chosen to do life. It's rich. It's gritty. It's life.

If you haven't picked up an excellent book about this very topic, I think that Rod Dreher's "The Little Way of Ruthie Leming" will resonate with you.

Preach it, sister.