The People That Deepen Your Spirit

Yesterday, after realizing that it had been a couple of months since I left Toronto and a bit longer since I had had a proper heart to heart with the Nephew, we skyped. I was a bit skeptical that it would work, but to my great surprise, the two of us talked nonstop for an hour about everything from summer camp, to trains, to the magic of Lego, to cool museums and the history of dinosaurs. What was off limits was news about other people, and any attempt to inquire about the other kids at camp or his friends was met with the response “Oh I don’t want to talk about thaaaat” and the Nephew pulling out a book to teach me something. At one point he pulled out an encyclopedia of his bookshelf and showed me nearly every page, stopping every so often to explain things or to look up from his book with shining eyes and exclaim “Oh I  didn’t know this book was so amazing!”

And as I concentrated on not laughing at his earnest, solemn face, I kept thinking that a) its crazy how technology can help bridge the distance of miles. We were in two separate rooms separated by nearly 5000 km, and yet we were able to play games, read stories and reach out for things like Charlie did exploring his factory for the first time. In a way that was previously solely the subject of fantasy novels, technology is creating different ways of existing and relating to the world.

The other thing I was thinking about though, was that is not simply curious, book-loving children that I enjoy spending time with, it’s everyone who possesses those qualities. But in Vancouver, the results of a recent Vancouver Foundation study of close to four thousand Metro Vancouver residents about the biggest issue in the region revealed that it is not transit or housing that is most pressing in people’s minds, it is the challenge of connecting with other people in the city. The study sparked the creation of the SFU Public Square, and multiple local media articles (including a five part series in the Vancouver Sun) speculating on the reason for Vancouverites loneliness.

It is a slightly scary message to hear when you’re new, and so a couple of weeks ago while at a Vancouver Creative Mornings breakfast, I discussed the study with the people in seats nearby. The woman beside me questioned whether the findings of the study were identifying a trend that is specific to Vancouver, or (as this New York Times article suggests) this is simply the nature of adulthood. As I sipped my coffee and listened to her experiences moving to the city, I thought about the question. “Was it easier to make friends in Toronto?” I wondered. Did I feel more socially engaged?

I’m not sure of the answer. In both cities I’ve been lucky. When I moved to Toronto I remember feeling overwhelmed that I was a new person to every single person I met, and that each friendship was only days old. I missed friends who had known me for years, and I missed our book chats. And then to my great surprise and delight, not only did many of those conversations continue, but Toronto became a place of the same sort of friendships. I was blessed with friends in graduate school, residence and the wider community who embodied one of my favourite poems Khalil Gibran’s “On Friendship” (below). Because I was on my own and graduate school was so intense, those friendships became deeply important to me.

In both stages though, I’ve been in school. Recently I was catching up with an old friend and describing my first month back in Vancouver, and my nervousness over starting a new job and pursuing new challenges and goals, and my friend pointed out that the post graduation phase is different from preceding stages. It is harder to meet likeminded individuals, to meet kindred spirits. Reflecting on that idea hours afterwards, it made sense. In university, (and in your early twenties in general) days and nights are filled with long conversations about the type of person you want to be and the contributions you want to make, because you are in development. Afterwards you are still in development,  but perhaps after graduation such conversations, and others to have such conversations with, become harder to find.

I’m curious to hear from others. Outside of school, how have you met friends that deepen your spirit as Khalil Gibran would say? The answer might be interesting in a city that is grappling with the question of social connection.

On Friendship

Your friend is your needs answered.

He is your field which you sow with love and reap with thanksgiving.
And he is your board and your fireside.
For you come to him with your hunger, and you seek him for peace.

When your friend speaks his mind you fear not the “nay” in your own mind, nor do you withhold the “ay.”
And when he is silent your heart ceases not to listen to his heart;
For without words, in friendship, all thoughts, all desires, all expectations are born and shared, with joy that is unacclaimed.
When you part from your friend, you grieve not;
For that which you love most in him may be clearer in his absence, as the mountain to the climber is clearer from the plain.
And let there be no purpose in friendship save the deepening of the spirit.
For love that seeks aught but the disclosure of its own mystery is not love but a net cast forth: and only the unprofitable is caught.

And let your best be for your friend.
If he must know the ebb of your tide, let him know its flood also.
For what is your friend that you should seek him with hours to kill?
Seek him always with hours to live.
For it is his to fill your need, but not your emptiness.
And in the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures.
For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.