You’re looking especially fine this morning. If you’re a dad, happy dad’s day. If you’re missing your dad, please know my heart is with you. I always look forward to what the kids come up for me to do with them on this day.
I’m up early … the sun has been coming up about 4:30 these days, and these early mornings are so peaceful. The lake remains still. The light has not yet hit the “golden” moments, but it won’t be long. Meanwhile, the mountain is reflecting a deep bluish-green-purple color in the water, and we’ve got some puffy clouds. Hope it’s not rain. I’m sitting in a bright red Adirondack chair, which is entirely appropriate, considering I’m at a lake in the Adirondack Park.
Today, I’m happy and I’m sad. Happy because it’s Father’s Day and I’m blessed to still have my dad around and in excellent health. Happy because it’s my day and the kids pay a little more attention than normal.
But I’m also sad. Not “someone died” sad, but “friends are leaving” sad. You see, this morning as I awoke, the reality set in that today we all go home, and some of us may never be together again.
The Last Day
This morning is the last day of my Publisher’s Invitational in the Adirondack Mountains. We have been together since last Sunday, when everyone checked in and we had our orientation and opening dinner. Then we got up each morning and had breakfast together, went out and painted in the most amazing scenery all day every day, then gathered for dinner together each evening. We sat up at night telling stories, viewing one another’s paintings from the day, having drinks together, painting portraits, and playing some music. It’s a pretty festive week.
The best part of the week, other than painting all day with no pressure to be anywhere, and no pressure of competing in a show, is that we all become very close. We develop some fabulous friendships during the week, and for those who return year after year, we get even closer and look forward to the following year.
I can remember having this same sad, sinking feeling after summer camp as a child. I was nervous going to camp not knowing anyone, but by the end of a couple of weeks I did not want to leave my friends, who all went to different schools in different cities. I also remember looking forward to returning year after year. This week is a lot like that because, after all, I call it “paint camp.”
The concept of this event started out simple: friends getting together to paint and play for a week, because the painters’ circuit is busy and competitive and we simply never get to do that. We started with seven painters, and they began bringing their friends, and this week we had 77 painters.
Hanging with Friends
Though my intent with the Invitational was to spend time with old friends, the unexpected benefit has been the new friends. When friends bring their friends, suddenly your circle of friends grows. I’ve always got room for new ones, and just when you think you have enough really close friends, something deep develops unexpectedly.
My Grandmother Luella, at age 92, told me, “You have to work at friendships to keep them alive.” She taught me well. She was always calling friends around the country and updating them on the family. She had hundreds of friends accumulated over 90-plus years. My dad is the same way. Learning this was a gift that has enriched my own life. I hope I can pass it on to my kids. This little Sunday missive is one of the ways I keep in touch.
We make discoveries by accident, but what my grandmother said was really true … you have to work at friendships. I create a lot of things to nurture friendships. I invest in finding time with special people.
Cycles of Life
I tend to believe that our lives have friendship cycles. There were times in my life when I spent a lot of time with certain people, had lots of good times, and then those people naturally faded from my life. They were little gifts. In some cases we served a purpose for one another for a time, and then we grew apart, intentionally or unintentionally. My radar is always open to new people for a new cycle in my life. Not all friends need to stay forever.
What I’ve found is that friends grow apart when the circumstances bringing them together change. I can remember friends I met in the radio business, people I spent a lot of time with because we were at the same meetings and same events and we grew closer, but then a few years passed and they moved on to other jobs or industries, and we simply don’t run into one another anymore. Sometimes too much time passes and you discover you can’t even find people anymore.
Another hard lesson I’ve learned is that sometimes you have to shed friends. Though I’m never calling anyone and saying, “We’re not friends anymore,” there are times you just have to lay low because someone has become toxic. It was a hard lesson, because I never want to let anyone go, but when people become abusive to themselves or others, when they are doing things that are not healthy for themselves or the relationship, I have to keep my distance. Fortunately, it hasn’t happened often.
Of course, there are also the pretend friends. They tell you one thing and tell others another, and it gets back to you. It’s pure evil. I still hurt thinking about how I believed in some people and I was betrayed, yet they still pretend all is well.
I recently lost a good friend because I told another mutual friend, out of concern, about something I’d heard — and that friend told my friend, who called me on it. I’ll think twice before I do that again because the loss of friendship leaves a gaping hole. It’s best just to keep my trap shut. Gossip is deadly even if you didn’t intend it as gossip.
The best friends are the lifers, of course. Sometimes you’re not in touch for years, even decades, but you still consider one another friends, and when you’re back together you don’t skip a beat. Facebook has been great for staying informed on the lives of friends I don’t often see in person.
My best lifers are the ones who nurture their friendships. It’s forced collision — I try to force it annually.
Together All Year
One of my closest lifer friends and I are like the two characters in the movie Same Time Next Year. I do an annual event at the Harvard Club in New York for my radio magazine, Radio Ink, and he likes to attend, so he always comes in and we room together at the National Arts Club, go to dinner and breakfast together, and get caught up on families and feelings. It’s something we both cherish because we talk for hours.
Though we talk randomly throughout the year, this is a way we carve out time for one another. It’s a big sacrifice for him to make the trip, and it’s one of the most meaningful times of the year for me. I look forward to it all year. We’ve done it for probably 10 years, and last year he missed it for the first time because he had a chance to go to Asia. It was truly lonely without him, and a time when I realized that one day that friend could be gone. As they say, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.”
I’m not sure why I feel so strongly about friendships. Maybe it was not getting picked for either team as the fat kid in elementary school, or being so weird that me and the kids I hung out with were the school losers (according to others, not us).
Driven by Friendships
As I look back on my year and my events, I’ve realized that friendships drive the whole thing. We really do get close at painting events like this week’s Adirondack Publisher’s invitational, next October’s Fall Color Week in Acadia National Park in Maine, and trips like the one I’ve taken painters on to Cuba and New Zealand in the last 18 months, or even our annual art cruise (this year, for the first time, it’s not a cruise — we’re going to Russia). I’m sure I’ll make friends on next year’s African Art Safari. Of course, the Plein Air Convention (PACE) and the Figurative Art Convention & Expo (FACE) will be filled with new and old friendships.
Though I started kinda melancholy this morning, I’ve just realized how fortunate I am to be in a position to make so many friends. I can always be a better friend, I can nurture more, call more, and stay in better touch. Some friends I rarely see, others I see frequently, and it’s still not enough.
My grandmother had a rich life with deep and meaningful friendships, and I think her advice to stay in touch and nurture those relationships has paid off. It makes life so much richer when you can share it with others.
I feel like the luckiest man alive…
Today may be Father’s Day, which comes with its responsibilities, but why not seek out and nurture some friends today and this week?