I met with a group of long time friends recently at a local Italian restaurant. We were happy to reprise our tradition of meeting and exchanging gifts at Christmas time. Mostly what we enjoy about this annual gathering, that was interrupted by Covid last year, is feeling so accepted by each other in spite of any differences in our political persuasions, backgrounds and lifestyles. We simply love each other in the most comforting of ways. Our gatherings fill each of us with a joy that sets the tone for the Christmas season.
This year we spoke of how sad it has been to see people around us allowing politics and small slights to rent their friendships in two. Each of us had experienced such things during the past couple of years. We understand how trying the times have been, but it is difficult to believe that a mother and child would become enemies simply because they voted differently in the 2020 election, and yet one of our party personally knew of such a situation. So too did everyone experience a breech in a long time friendship over everything from being vaccinated to wearing masks to believing that the 2020 election was fraudulent.
I count the blessings of my many friends and I believe that the anxieties that many among us hold have been stoked by elected officials who have drawn lines in the sand to purposely divide us. The media of all sorts, under the guise of freedom of speech, has all too often gleefully amplified our differences in ways that sadly turn family members and friends against each other. I for one have been unfriended by individuals whom I continue to love in spite of their rejection of me. Somehow their allegiance to certain ideas has superseded their loyalty to me. A single comment or belief from me has erased their memory of the times we have shared in both happy and sorrowful moments. I have become a non-person to them as though I no longer exist.
I can understand eliminating someone who is abusive or disloyal, but I have trouble accepting that small slights or differences are grounds for smashing a long time relationship. I remain determined to be like the father in the story of the Prodigal Son in the hopes that one day I will celebrate the return of the folks who are upset with me over small missteps that they believe I have taken in my view of the world. Somehow I cannot take the advice of well-meaning friends who have advised me to just accept that some relationships have an expiration date and I need to just walk away. These people have meant too much to me for far too long to so easily write them off. I intend to wait until a time when we might be able to make amends.
I tend to believe that when such things happen there are bigger issues at play than a single slip of the tongue or disturbing belief. For that reason I cling to the hope that at some moment in the future my patience will pay off and I will be reunited with individuals who allowed the crises of the moment to create a rift in what had once been a wonderful union of diverse mindsets. Somehow at least for now, they do not seem to realize that I may not agree with them on particular issues, but those things have nothing to do with how I feel about them as people. We have waded through too much together for me to so quickly forget what they have always meant to me.
I have already lost so many dear, dear friends and family members. Perhaps that is why I so appreciate those who are still around to walk with me. I often grieve for those who have died and worry that I somehow never really let them know how much I loved them. I hope that somehow they nonetheless knew that I never took them for granted no matter how busy or distracted by life I became. I value people over anything else and I have a tendency to never give up on them. I suppose that I was better at letting my students know how much I cared about them than teaching them mathematics. I simply refuse to believe that anyone is expendable and sometimes my heart has been broken because of that. Nonetheless, it is the way I am and I will not apologize for my determination to retain deep feelings even for those who become angry enough to push me away.
One of my favorite stories of reunion came from my dear friend, Egon, who sadly died all too soon. His mother was living in Norway during World War II when the German army invaded the country. Egon’s father was a German soldier charged with maintaining control of the population. While stationed in Norway he met Egon’s mother and the two of them fell in love in spite of their differing allegiances. After the war they married and lived in Germany.
Over time they returned to Norway so that the woman might visit with her relatives, many of whom met her husband with cold politeness or even downright disdain. After decades when it became apparent that the once Nazi soldier was a good man who had been drafted into service that was not particularly indicative of his own beliefs, one of the woman’s brothers boldly announced to the family that it was time to set aside all of their rancor and welcome his sister’s husband into their midst. After that they all spent many happy years enjoying one another’s company and loving each other without conditions.
If a group of people were able to overcome such painful memories I am confident that my beautiful ones will one day lead to a reunion with those who remain special to me. The love we have shared is far more important than our differences. The spirit and the reason for Christmas convinces me that love will always win.