My great-grandmother Grandmaw Martin used to say, “Nothing good happens after midnight.” As a young man, I lived the opposite of her statement.
In the witching hours, I experienced some of my most pleasurable, fool-induced joys and a series of brushes with dangerous dives into debauchery.
Yet, this has changed as I’ve grown older. While I still love the night, I’m prone to think if bad news comes, it comes under the stars.
Phones buzzing after the sun goes down leave me feeling as cold as a casket. Lasting anywhere from 10 minutes to an eternity, they change everything and leave you empty. So was the case with my last one.
The storm crow caller and I went back and forth in a rally that would have given Borg versus McEnroe a run for their money. Him giving me details. Me making statements sounding more like questions, my voice rising at the end of each sentence. I can feel confusion setting up shop in the lines of my face as much as I can feel the coloring leaving it.
Saying goodbye, I numbingly staggered downstairs into the living room and found the couch. How does one sit on the edge of something and somehow still manage to sink into it?
My spouse mouths a concerned, “What?” as I stare back at her. I start and try to relay the story, but my words fail me. Everything feels as if it’s failing me.
What utterances I can push up and out come slowly, like the hands of reluctant adolescents asked to pray at a Wednesday night youth group meeting.
Finally, I choke forth the words, “Don is gone. He died.” Gutted might not be the best word, but it’s the first that comes to mind.
Somewhere in my wails, gnashing of teeth and tearing of sackcloth, my tongue lets loose a truth, and immediately I feel exposed and vulnerable.
Why was this different from other losses I’d experienced? This person was my friend. And I don’t have many of those.
This hits me harder than those misread cracks of pavement I’m prone to discover on my skateboard. Now rolling my way into early middle age, these misjudgments are harder to walk away from. So are the “cracks” I’ve missed surrounding authentic friendship.
This subject is tender, like my now creaking knees and ankles. Leaving me hobbling more than I’d like to admit as I tell those watching, “I’m fine.”
This isn’t to say I haven’t done well with acquaintances because I have. Hell, I’m a bona fide champion when it concerns having peers of the clergy variety.
What’s missing? It’s the rudimental and raw friendships I forged on the playgrounds of yesteryear.
I appreciate my fellow clergy peers. But honestly, I want to feel like I’m more than my vocation. I’m more than my job. I don’t want to surround myself with folks who do what I do. It’s an echo chamber of bland existence. One I’ve seen from afar and loathed.
Also, I wholeheartedly appreciate my relationships with parishioners, but those are always a bit strained due to an unnamed power dynamic. If enough of them gather around a committee table, they can ghost me out of their lives and out the front doors of the church.
Where I come from, friends don’t typically sign your paycheck, and I’ve got a hundred or more folks who think they sign mine. All this has produced a pastor who is great at being relational but whose close friendships can be counted on one hand, leaving me a few fingers to spare.
I shared as much with someone recently. And like my friend Don who passed, this person has consistently allowed me to be me in their company. Welcoming my contrarian ways and speaking words of life into mine.
I told him as much after not seeing him for several years, explaining that I didn’t want to go through the rest of my life not letting people know what they mean to me. I said all this while holding a squirming toddler, which made my authentic remarks seem clumsy.
He reciprocated the sentiment, and we offered one another an embracing right hand of fellowship. We departed one another with a prayer to do better.
A few weeks later, my friend passed along an article in The New York Times naming the issue we both felt. Written by Catherine Pearson whose work deals primarily with relationships, the piece dealt specifically with men and engaged in what has been labeled “friendship recession.”
She does diligent work, using her journalism skills to speak with voices ranging from mental health counselors to podcast hosts who’ve approached the subject. Building to a crescendo of desired companionship, Pearson describes a few helpful steps.
Some are what you might think, such as being intentional about your need for close friends and being prepared to work at it like any other meaningful relationship. She insists vulnerability is key.
We should tell others we care about them from time to time. Checking in with those we see as friends builds stronger bonds, so sending a random text goes a long way. And finally, find activities you can do together.
Wherever you go and whatever you do, just make sure you do it together.
It’s all practical advice and sounds good in theory. Meet people, share life with them, and be there for one another. Easy, right? There’s truth in these approaches.
And yet, I read these recommendations, and it’s hard not to feel a wave of inadequacy washing over me. What do I have to offer that would hold someone’s attention for any length of time?
My spouse, a saint in this department, would probably say otherwise, but she’s biased, kind and made from a stock richer than my own. She’s an unfair measuring stick to use on anyone else.
In addition, between my job and my family, I don’t have much time to give. At least, that’s how it feels. So, I wonder, why risk rejection? Or worse, a contrived and superficial closeness?
I’ve lost count of the times my ears have vomited after hearing someone say, “Yeah, I know Kyle! Love that dude,” and seconds later, say the same thing about the elusive McRib sandwich. Call me high maintenance, but I need to be on a higher pedestal than questionable boneless pork shoulder.
Setting my default cynicism aside, why do I feel compelled to work at this? Because I don’t want to gulp down another remorse, shame-filled whiskey Highball concoction like I had to when I heard about Don.
I don’t want to hear from others assuring me that he knew how I felt about him. And, while I’d like to believe he did, I’d rather cut back on the second-guessing moving forward.
I want to tell folks the things I should have told him, and maybe this makes me a candidate for someone’s close friend. Or maybe, I’m trying to walk too tight of a rope and will fall off as soon as I get distracted.
Either way, I can live with it.
Senior pastor of Second Baptist Church, Suffield, Connecticut. Cox received his theological education from Campbell University and Wake Forest University School of Divinity. He is an ordained minister affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and is currently enrolled in the Doctor of Ministry program at McAfee School of Theology. Besides reading, baking and amateur gardening, most of his time is spent with his spouse, Lauren, and their two daughters. Opinions and reflections are his own.