Monday, February 25, 2013

Lilly in the Field

Life out of balance,
Carbon won't you please come home?
Grow trees; don't burn them.
—Laird's Sequestration Haiku (a somewhat obscure category)

I had a phone call yesterday with an old friend, Kip Lilly... We met our first year at Carleton College in the fall of 1967, where, in the way of clever freshman everywhere, we hung on him the moniker Young Eli—after the founder of the Indiana-based pharmaceutical conglomerate, with whom he shared a last name. Of course, neither he nor I are quite so young any more, but I reckon he'll always be younger than the guy with "Eli Lilly" on his birth certificate.

I had last seen (or even had a conversation) with Kip almost six years ago, when he attended Ma'ikwe's and my wedding (April 2007). He was one of about 10 college friends who attended, which was an impressive showing given that our connections were 40 years old and our lives had diverged considerably since those halcyon days.

Kip called because another special Carleton friend, Sue Anderson, is a consumer of this blog and had alerted him to my marital struggles. As good friends do, Kip called to see how I was doing. I was touched by his reaching out.

One special quality about my relationship with Kip is that he is every bit as much a word player as I am. Though I don't know how much he writes, you can't listen to him talk for more than a few minutes before you encounter the same kind of convoluted sentence structure—peppered with tortured punctuation, whimsical metaphors, and obscure cultural references—that I am prone to. I had forgotten how much he has been soul mate for me in that regard!

By way of example, his parting shot on yesterday's phone call was that I accept a homework assignment: a haiku on the topic of sequestration. Where does he get this stuff and what does it represent that it's rattling around in his head? Breathing through those existential questions, I reflected on how few people I know who would make such an oddball request (probably a good thing). Of course, being a player myself, I agreed with alacrity, and I led off this blog by turning in my original composition.

While this Lilly in my field can be, at times, pretty far afield, he's nonetheless precious to me.

Though Kip and I were once fairly close (we canoed a lot together in our 20s) and he's been to Sandhill a few of times, we've seen each other rarely in the last three decades and it was amazing how many deep references we were able to call up on demand and weave into our telephonic stroll down memory lane. Though our points of connection had mainly receded below the surface of consciousness through disuse, they remained in place and surprisingly accessible at need. Opening the door to that closet, I am suffused with dusty memories today.

My college years were important to me and formative. It was where I first examined the conservative values of my upbringing and started down the path of inquiry and personal growth work that (apparently) has no end—witness my counseling appointment this afternoon, as I continue my work to strengthen my marriage.

This morning I'm wondering about how the following observations fit into one sensible narrative:

o  I established a number of friendships in my four years of college that were valuable for me at the time and have remained so 40+ years later. Even though the points of contact are much less frequent today, I am invariably able to drop right back into depth and tenderness when with my old college friends. Even more impressive is that there are several people from my Carleton days that hold their friendship with me in high esteem.

o  I figure I've been working toward being a more complete, more aware, and more integrated person my entire adult life. While this pilgrim's progress has not always been linear and there have been plenty of bumps in the road, I have a definite sense of advancement the last 45 years—which makes the strength and steadfastness of my college connections all the more impressive, as these lasting bonds were forged at the front end of my journey, when I offered more relationship potential than accomplishment.

o  One of the central points of connection I have with Ma'ikwe is our dedication to an examined life. While we haven't taken the same paths in pursuing this, there is deep respect for the work we have each done, and we value a willingness to hang in there when we hit a rough patch. This expressly includes recognizing our own reactivity and working emotionally. (I'm not claiming that we always do this well; I'm saying that we recognize the need for it and have made a commitment to try.)

o  For all of our dedication to cultivating the garden of our relationship—which we have been doing for over seven years now, about twice the time I had in college with my friends there—Ma'ikwe and I are nonetheless in serious struggle, with the viability of our marriage in question. 

o  While taking into account the adage that familiarity breeds contempt, and that being a good friend is not the same level of commitment or complexity as being a spouse, I'm still scratching my head about how I manifested such enduring friends from college days—when my personal growth work was just getting started—while stumbling so badly in my marriage with a sophisticated partner and four decades of personal growth work under my belt.

Hmm. This humbling juxtaposition causes me to rethink just how much progress I've made over the years. That's the problem with an examined life: peeking in the mirror can reveal blemishes you'd rather weren't there.

No comments: