I have just returned from a twelve day biking trip in Germany, France and Luxembourg. I have gone on similar adventures over the last four years , always before with a friend. This year was different. My usual biking companion is a gifted writer and is in the midst of getting her manuscript for her newest book off to the editor for the final draft to her publisher. So… if I was going to have my annual fall adventure, and I really, really wanted to.. I was going to have to head into it by myself.
The tour company that has arranged these trips puts together a group of approximately 20 people on these excursions. This tour was comprised of 22 including me. There were many couples and there were good friends of many years and everyone on the tour had close connections to others on tour..except for me. It won’t surprise anyone who reads these blog posts that this felt like a high risk thing to me, that I was very nervous about it… and that I felt I had to close my eyes… and do it anyway~
Figuring large in my imagination was the only time in my recent adult life when I had to insert myself in a social setting where I didn’t know a soul. Several years ago I ended up at a wedding where I only knew people in the wedding party. The sister of a long time babysitter (and very good friend) was getting married to a young man from rural Maine. I knew I’d be okay once we were seated at dinner but there was a long (seemingly endless !) cocktail hour that preceded it. Nursing a glass of wine in a corner, I decided to screw up my courage and sit with a glum looking couple at the only small table that had seating available. I took a deep breath and walked over. “Hi,” I said,”I’m a friend of the bride’s, may I join you?” “No.” they said. They were not joking. Yipes… I slunk away back to my corner …
Sooo…the tour offered several group meals but several more were on “our own” in foreign cities and towns. The biking part involved figuring out route instructions through isolated stretches of road and is always best done with others.I was going to have to set myself up for possible rejection again. I decided I could take it on.
The biking tour company had arranged a transfer from the airport in Frankfurt to our starting point in Koblenz. The fellow charged with the transfer was nowhere to be seen and I ended up spotting luggage tags from the tour company on a fellow traveler’s carryon bag. I introduced myself to him and to his wife who showed up a few minutes later. As the week progressed we reflected back upon that moment and joked that we had imprinted on each other like baby ducks. We biked together, ate together and laughed and laughed some more.
The rest of the group was equally warm and welcoming, offering generous sharing of stories and laughter. We talked of families and travels and politics and the adventure we were all a part of . We had exquisite days and some uproarious evenings. It was just wonderful.
Once again, life was enriched for taking a risk. Once again, I needn’t have worried.
It all got me thinking about companionship and friendship, how they are the same and how they are different.
I think they can often end up feeling the same (they each hold the warmth of connection and can make things bright) but that they come from very different places. To be a good companion has to carry a certain reserve I think. It requires a lightness and ease with a minimum investment in the outcome. It can’t carry much weight in terms of intensity , it couldn’t hold it. It is a transitional, transactional thing.. it is much like manners in that regard…it just makes things enjoyable and fun and smooths the bumps. You don’t really care much if you will see each other again or what the past and future holds for each other…you are simply into the moment. You are making that moment you are in together as full and memorable as you possibly can. It is an unspoken pact to achieve a goal that all want to reach. Companionship is easy.
Friendship on the other hand is an entirely different thing. Friendship is intense with high investment. Your friends’ past and future, their failures and success matter deeply. You can’t imagine never seeing each other again. You give of your love and care deeply that you are loved in return. You make yourself fully known to a friend and you see a friend with clear eyes. Friendship, true friendship, requires maximum investment in the outcome. Friendship is hard.
I am so very happy to have had the amazing fun of easy companionship on this trip and I think that in the case of the first two people I met that there is the potential for a lasting friendship. Further, I will be delighted if my path crosses at some future date with all of the others, every one.
But mostly, I am reminded again of my impossibly great fortune in friends. My friends have deepened my life in countless ways. We have cried and laughed, we have gladly carried each others weight, experienced each other’s joy as our own, and opened our hearts wide.
This is a love letter to you my friends. Friendship is hard and you are priceless .