[Update: There has been some unintentional controversy over this post. The words “shattered”, “illusions” and “romanticism” have obviously conveyed something I did not intend. I have made a cursory attempt to clarify the post, but further work may be necessary.
I loved my time in the States. I loved spending time with the people I did. I am glad that such time involved the growing and deepening of friendships, and the moving of those friendships beyond the context of l’Abri. And I am very sorry if that sentiment wasn’t conveyed in this post as originally written.]
I’m back. ‘Back to where’ is a legitimate question, but if where is the UK, rather than the US, then I am indeed back. Physically at least.
Mentally and emotionally, I don’t know where I am. Despite a not-insignificant part of me going out there in search of “belonging” and “home”, I am not in America. I found a great deal of things there, but home was not one of them. But, as anyone who has seen me in the last week or so can attest, I’m not exactly here either. A combination of jetlag, hard floors and reverse culture shock, along with a prolonged, continuing period of self examination, seems to have left a good part of me floating up with the planes somewhere. I do not yet seem to be back on the ground.
Neither can I say that I am ready to tell you all stories of the trip. Six and a half weeks is a long time, and for very little of it did I stay still. I have yet to achieve enough distance on events for perspective, and I seem unable to tell even the itinerary without having my listener’s eyes glaze over.
What I can tell you is that it was wonderful. Wonderful and terrible. Terrible is perhaps a harsh word; it is hyperbole and will fade with time. But in this trip I have been poked and prodded, inspired and challenged, examined and criticised. I have been frequently amazed. I have seen in detail another culture; it has held a mirror up to me and I haven’t always liked what I saw. I have also pushed at the boundaries of some friendships – and been pushed back.
It is very easy to look back at l’Abri romantically. That time was special, and the friends I made there doubly so. I had a great deal of enthusiasm at the prospect of seeing so many of them again, but also some trepidation. What would these friendships be like, so far down the line? How will we relate to each other, outside of ‘the bubble’ and in the real world?
It was so great to see such wonderful people again, and to celebrate with them. The Wedding and all the events around it were marvellous, a true celebration in every sense. We enjoyed each other’s company once again, and what good company it was. But away from those events, things did not always run so smoothly.
I travelled with one l’Abri friend for a little over three days. It was good, but it wasn’t easy. They were the first three days we had spent alone together, and there was little opportunity for personal space. I lived with another l’Abri friend, and her young family, for almost a month. It was good, but it wasn’t easy. A month is a long time, especially when you haven’t seen each other in 18 months. And there aren’t often places you can go to escape.
While there is much of the last couple of months that I am still reflecting on, still processing, this I am pretty sure of. That with those two friends, something of the l’Abri romanticism was shattered, at least with regard to me. Had they illusions at the start, they have far less now.
I know that I am better one-on-one than I am in a group, but that doesn’t mean you won’t want to escape me at some point. Any reputation I have for wisdom or wit probably fades quite rapidly on prolonged exposure. I’m a little neurotic, and more than a little self-obsessed. I’m a know-it-all, with a habit of stating the obvious. There’s a chance I could even be a bore. I’m really rather grumpy in the morning, and appreciate a wide berth.
This isn’t me fishing for compliments, by the way. I mean the above only as far as to say that we all have our negative sides. And two good friends definitely saw the some less attractive sides of me this trip. And I them, to a degree. [I must however clarify that, as they are both female, their less attractive sides are a good deal more attractive than mine]. What I think I mean is this: we lost our illusions of each other. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing.
Any relationship, any real friendship, has to be based on reality. On the person in front of you, as they are. So the process of having your illusions shattered is, while painful, very good. You are left with the reality of them, and they of you.
While I didn’t enjoy that process, I had a fantastic time with both these friends. I experienced the wonder of America with them, in a way I could not have done on my own. And my friendships with both of them grew and deepened in ways I am continuing to discover and am truly grateful for. I am sure I would have rather kept projecting the illusion of the charming, intelligent Englishman. And it would have been easier not to have seen the rougher edges of my friends. But then, I would not have known them so fully, neither they me.
Those two ladies, along with many of those I saw in America, are people I hope to be friends with for the rest of my life. I have no idea what form that friendship will take, but I hope it will be there, somehow. But for those friendships to be true they need to move beyond memories of l’Abri and into an embracing of the reality of their lives (and mine). We have to grow together, and (re)discover each other. We have to lose our illusions and suppositions and fantasies, and embrace the imperfect glory of the person in front of us.
I trust that, with at least two friends, I am now much closer to that goal.