On Missing Drive-By Friendships
Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got
Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot
Wouldn’t you like to get away?*
The world I grew up in was very different from the one I live alongside of today. No internet, no cell phones, no car phones, no cable television, no mp3 players. It was a quieter, slower pace. I lived for a couple of years in a cabin 20 miles outside of town, a one-room wooden structure on the edge of a deep wood. A stream ran clear and cold just a short walk down its bank and it was there that I would bathe when the weather permitted. It was an existence that allowed for reading, listening to music, and thinking.
But cabin life, as wonderful as it was most of the time, got a little too isolated after a while and so I would drive into town to visit friends. Not having a phone at the cabin meant I couldn’t call to see if anyone was home or find out what they were doing. But that didn’t matter: I just dropped in on my friends unannounced and was invited in and made to feel welcome. Friends didn’t try to entertain or feed me; we sat around and talked, laughed, and threw a frisbee now and then.
At times a friend or two would take the risk of driving out to the cabin in hopes that I’d be there. That was cool. Sometimes I’d go to a bar in the evening where my friends gathered to shoot pool and the breeze. I’d just show up and so would my friends. And we didn’t have an agenda other than enjoying and getting to know one another.
I don’t do any of that anymore. In fact, I stopped doing it when my wife and I moved to Colorado for graduate school. It wasn’t the same as the midwest where I had grown up. When I moved to Texas, it was more of the same: no one just dropped by and I didn’t pop in on friends without warning. It had somehow become rude or impolite over the years and the miles.
I don’t know why it changed. It could have been that phases of life pulled the welcome mat from so many front doors. It also might have been the ramped-up busyness that began with 24-hour news and the explosion of electronic media. Then again, it might have been just a midwest thing: I have friends here in Texas that grew up in the midwest and on rare occasions I show up at their door and they’re glad to see me. But that doesn’t happen a lot.
Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name
And they’re always glad you came,
You wanna be where you can see our troubles are all the same,
You wanna be where everybody knows your name.*
Nowadays everything is planned well in advance. People have parties and gatherings but there’s usually a point to them: watch a football game, celebrate a birthday, or some other special occasion. Nobody throws a party for nothing. Nobody says, “Hey come on over and we’ll sit around and think great thoughts!” It just doesn’t happen. Maybe nobody thinks like that anymore.
I understand part of it, but only part. There have been a lot of cultural changes over the past fifty to sixty years. Homes are more self-contained and self-sustaining. Friends are online. Pretty much all needs can be met without leaving home or having someone come to your home. Or so we think.
It wouldn’t bother me so much except that, as a Christian, I had hoped for and expected more spontaneous fellowship than what I’ve found. When Christians get together, there’s always something to talk about. And it should be something – or Someone – that doesn’t involve sports, gossip, business, material things, or money. We should talk about life and God and love and the hard things about living. We should be involved in one another’s lives more than just seeing one another at church and having lunch together once in a while. For those who go to church.
Part of it could be me, of course. Who invites in individual and marital therapist to just show up without warning? Even though I tell people that I don’t do it without an invitation, I suspect people wonder if I’m evaluating and assessing them when they’re not looking.
Or it could be that I won’t sit around and talk about meaningless bullshit. I want to talk about things that matter, things that can be troubling, things that require thought. Not all the time. But a lot of the time. That could be a turnoff for a lot of people who are pretending to live life but aren’t really experiencing it. Or maybe it’s that I use the word “bullshit” around Christians.
I don’t know what it is, just that it is. It’s sad and leaves me wishing it were the old days again. But that can’t happen and I know it.
Hopefully, in the afterlife, there will be more casual, impromptu gatherings. Kinda seems a shame to have to wait until then.
* Gary Portnoy – Where Everybody Knows Your Name