Every time I meet someone who's been to Decorah, various iterations of how magical a place it is are bound to follow. I had the privilege of growing up in a part of the world that's one of the most beautiful I've encountered. The bulk of my adolescence was spent outdoors. In a small town, children entertain themselves. We'd traipse along the bluffs; we'd gather old inner tubes and float down the river; we'd build shelters in the woods from salvaged wood and tin; we'd wind down gravel roads, hair blowing, sipping warm Peter Vella chardonnay we'd siphoned from my friend's parents' box in the fridge and stored in mason jars; we'd make hot chocolate and pack blankets and lay supine in the bed of a pick-up and watch meteor showers. We entertained ourselves, but we did it together. It's far from typical, but many of the friends I made in elementary school continue to be some of my best friends today. See? There's something magical about Decorah, and it isn't merely the natural beauty of the place -- a waterfall here, an ice cave down the road, a gorgeous look out point a half mile further... It's connection. The roots are deep.
I had a difficult time finding friendships in college that rivaled those I'd built growing up. I found them eventually, but I didn't realize how lucky I'd been until I was challenged to build new relationships. Most people I met seemed to lack depth -- they were interested in surface friendships. Perhaps they hadn't grown up walking the woods and talking and getting to the deep-dark stuff. Maybe they were handicapped by a city rife with distraction and entertainment.
And then I graduated from college and made my way into the real world. I was challenged again to build friendships. Unfortunately, the way I like to spend the bulk of my time doesn't exactly generate community. You don't meet a lot of new friends wandering wooded trails or leisurely playing disc golf or reading. So my colleagues became my friends. And many of them are rich, true, wonderful friendships, but it took a long time to find them. I still long to be surrounded by the large group of friends I was blessed to have in high school. Perhaps that's why I seem to require so much love, even when I should feel satiated by all I'm given. I was spoiled by such excess love growing up, anything less feels like a shortage.
As adults, I think it's hard to meet people whose soul seems to mirror our own. There's so much distraction. And maybe so much damage. And maybe people have found a way to make-do with what they've got. They aren't terribly eager to give much energy to nurturing new friendships. They have families and careers that require care; friendships become secondary.
Zora Neale Hurston said, "There are years that ask questions and there are years that answer." This is an answering year. In the last few months I've discovered a handful of people whose friendship felt immediately close and immediate. I've found people who like to wander the woods and who write and who get me.
Sometimes timing is funny. Missy has become one of my closest friends, but we should have been friends years ago. We both went to UNI. We're the same age. We had overlapping friends. But we never crossed paths. If we did, we don't have any recollection of it. And then we were in our Master's program together, but we didn't connect there either, oddly. In fact, I'm not entirely sure when the connection was made -- ICTE Board stuff or an IWP course... But aren't those the greatest friendships? The ones you don't remember even beginning?
The best friends nudge us. They encourage us. They offer us empathy and understanding. They call us out when we're being dramatic. They give us time and energy and love again and again and again without question or hesitation, even when we don't deserve it. Missy is that for me. It's bizarre and unlikely that we didn't connect sooner, given the overlap, but maybe the universe holds people on reserve for the moments in life when we desperately need one of those soul mirrors who'll walk with us and confront the deep-dark and will understand us. The universe always knows best. It would behoove me to trust it more.