I spent Christmas and new years back east visiting family. On new years eve after most of the other guests had gone home I was sitting in my Uncle Pat’s music room with all my uncles listening to them play, singing along when I knew the tune, and chatting about life. I’d recently been through the end of what in retrospect I’d realized was an unhealthy relationship, and ultimately a toxic friendship as well as some bad news about the program I was in at Univeristy and losing a job. In talking about it with them, I mentioned how amazed I was by the people that had stepped in and not only comforted me but called me out when I was being insufferable. It was a level of friendship I wasn’t aware was there until it was necessary. My uncle Jimmy, who’s the oldest of the gang, and usually the loudest, got very quiet for a moment then simply said “Anam cara”. I know very little Gaelic, but knew “cara” was heart and pressed him to explain. He told me that it means “Freind of my soul” and when I rolled my eyes at him, assuming he meant “soul mate” in the way it’s thrown around today, and was trying to give me an expletive-laden version of “Plenty of fish in the sea” he stopped me and in typical Jimmy fashion, dumbed it down into the saltiest version he could think of. “It’s like this Chris, everyone’s got friends, right? But the one’s who you know are the good ones will hold up a mirror to your face whether you’re all done up or smeared in shit”
The phrase itself really stuck with me, and the more I looked into it the more I could see that quality in the people who’d been there for me. Especially my gang of fools living in Chicago who I see once or twice a year. Even with that distance and time, as soon as we’re together the dynamic is exactly the same as it always was. As individual recognition goes, my roommate, who became a brother in arms long before we lived together, and even survived the big dirty with me comes out on top. He dragged me kicking and clawing through the rough spots and always made sure there was something good to eat on the other side.
This sort of friendship is easy to miss in others. It’s sometimes painful the way resetting a broken bone can be, but most of the time it’s boring. It’s the autonomic nervous system of interpersonal relationships. It’s there, it does it’s job, and doesn’t complain unless you push it too hard. Even when you do, it’s only asking that you slow down a bit and let it catch up. Time and reflection have to be taken to notice it, as is true of anything that has the potential to be taken for granted.
In realizing how important these select people were to me, I knew I had to say proper goodbyes before I left for Maine. I’m writing all this down so I don’t have to have a deep personal conversation with each and every one of them, and because a lot of them live in places that don’t make for a short trip.
My approach to any sentiment that I hold dear is to create a physical symbol of that thing. I’ve got my home states flag inked into my skin where I can always see it, I have little knickknacks from every place I’ve visited and that impacted me significantly, etc. I think of them as little totems for those overwhelming feelings, good or bad, that keep them outside of myself so I avoid my family curse of “keep it all inside and then one day you’ll die”. So I decided to pass that on. I took an old table leg and sawed of small circular slices of it, then burnt those words “Anam Cara” on the back, and asked each of these people for a small animal/symbol/word that meant something to them and burnt that onto the front, as well as making myself one with the good ol’ vegvisr burned into it.
If you’re interested, Brainpickngs has a great article about this concept, and it links to John O’donohue’s (The poet credited with describing this term in a way modern men and women can relate to) Here.
This last paragraph and quotation about “Anam Cara” is really for those people who’ve been in my life in this way. Stay touch as much as time allows and know that even when I’m in Maine I’m just a phone call away. After the last year, I’ve definitely got some ground to make up anyway. Know that at some point through every day we’re apart, I’ll glance at my little totem hanging around my neck and think of each of you, and how much joy you’ve brought to my life.
The superficial and functional lies and half-truths of social acquaintance fall away, you can be as you really are. Love allows understanding to dawn, and understanding is precious. Where you are understood, you are at home.