On Friendship, Mercury Retrograde and the Distant Shore

Ah, Mercury retrograde: when travel goes awry, computers crash, things get lost in the mail and forging ahead feels like wading in muck. Everytime I see Mercury retrograde on the horizon, I want to hide out at home with my new donut maker and some Nick Cave records and wait for the astro-storm to be over.

But there’s one nice thing about Mercury retrograde I’ve noticed: people come out of the woodwork. Friends I haven’t heard from in ages, buddies I used to carouse with, clients from past projects in past lives, colleagues just touching base to say hello and let me know what they’re up to…they all drop a line, send a quick message on Facebook, or (wow!) even pick up the phone and call. That’s such a nice thing about Mercury retrograde, right?

This particular retrograde’s been good for that, and I’ve spent tons of time chatting with old friends, meeting up for dinner, FaceTiming (is that a verb?) at odd hours with those in different time zones. Most of these friendships go way, way back, back when friends were family and our conversations were like oxygen — when we’d talk about the selves we wanted to be, the dreams we wanted to will into being, when we spent nights and weekends together, holding each other up when things were falling apart. These are the friends who kept my spirits aloft when everything looked hopeless and grim, who danced into the night together like some urban-pagan ritual, who hugged me and told me true love was waiting and we were worthy of it. Maybe we didn’t believe it ourselves, but telling another person you love helped convince you, too. Loving your friends is like loving yourself, only easier sometimes.

It’s years later now. And we are still friends. But our friendship has a different tenor, one wrought by changes in circumstance, temperament, families, babies, husbands, wives, houses, families — the stuff of roots and stability. We talk less often, perhaps. We’re farther away. Paths are wending in unpredictable directions. Social media’s had an odd effect, in a way. I know what’s happening in lives; I see the pictures of the home renovations, the kids, the trips, the weddings, so when we talk, we can get right into it. But what Facebook and Twitter don’t truly create is genuine intimacy — how we feel experiences of our friends as if they are our very own. Are these only transmitted by the sounds of a voice, shared only over a proper cocktail? Sometimes you can only really be there for someone with a hug.

Sometimes it’s like distant ships passing close to shore — you see a shape moving through the fog towards you, and maybe even hear the horn sounding through the mist. And sometimes they pull into the harbor and drop anchor, and you’ll run out to meet them, because it’s been ages and it’s just like they never left. But still you stand on land and the ship pulls away, and you watch it until it becomes a speck on the horizon, and then no more. And then you walk back to your own home, and pick up your life where you left off and live it until maybe around the next Mercury retrograde, when the next ship pulls in.

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