Assigned Seats: Many Friendships We Have are “Forced”

It’s a little something I call “forced friendship”.

It was always a bittersweet moment when as an elementary school student, I would walk into the classroom Monday morning and realize that my desk was on the other side of the room.  I would now be sitting next to other kids that I hadn’t necessarily been around much before.  This also meant I would no longer be sitting close to the friends I had made while at my previously assigned seat.

Boy, this is just a life metaphor waiting to happen.  Don’t beat me to the punch…

Do we choose our friends?  Yes.  But so often, by default.  Whether because of proximity through work, school, church, current circles of friends, or even marrying into a family, we find ourselves in what I call “forced friendships”.

And I don’t say that like it’s a bad thing.  It’s good.

I use the word “forced” because the reality of friendship is that we don’t usually go out to places looking for friends.  Friends just happen.  We end up in the same place at the same place, often on a reoccurring basis.  And in each location, the people that have the most in common or whose personalities compliment each other the most, are naturally going to become friends.

It’s not typical for one person to walk up to another person that they barely know and say, “Let’s be friends.”  Because it’s much more natural to let the Assigned Seats of Destiny direct us in our human relationships.

The concept of forced friendship became apparent to me in 2008, the year that my sister got married in January, and I in July, just six months apart.  In the same year, I gained a brother-in-law (my sister’s husband) on one side of the family, then seven brothers-in-law (my wife’s brothers) and two sisters-in-law (my wife’s sisters).  Before 2008, I had no in-laws at all.  In a matter of six months, I acquired plenty of them.

And through that process, the ones I have spent the most time with became the ones I obviously know the best, and therefore, have the strongest friendships with.  We are family by marriage, but that doesn’t take away at all the friendship aspect of it.

Each one brings out different sides of my personality, hobbies, and interests.  As we reflect our similarities and common ties.

For example, my sister’s husband Andrew and I are just a few years apart, having grown up playing the same old school Nintendo games, both having grown up in Alabama, and both obsessed with LOST.  In fact, he’s the reason my sister started watching LOST, which is why I am now obsessed.  Throughout the week, we send each other stupid website links and YouTube videos.  The perfect combination of a brother and a good friend.

On the other end of the brother-in-law spectrum, there is Tom up in Pennsylvania, who is the husband of my wife’s 2nd oldest sister.  We only see each other about twice a year and there is about a 10 year age difference between us.  In fact, he and my wife’s sister got married when I was in Junior High and they had their first kid the year I graduated high school.

Yet we have a whole lot in common.  When our wives are together, we let them catch up.  And we just do our own thing.  Whether it’s playing cards, shooting pool, watching movies, or playing with the kids.  We live the laid-back life together.

Being around him is like that seeing my life ten years into the future.  What little recent experience I have being around kids is from his two daughters.  I watch carefully how he talks and interacts with them.  His calm-assertiveness gives them the direction they need while still keeping the environment positive and loving.

Having the ability to choose isn’t everything.  Sometimes it’s better for someone or something else to make our decisions and life plans for us.  The funny thing is, the friendships I have sought out after never seem to last, like a trend or a fad.  If anything, those friendships are the ones that actually ended up feeling forced.

Whereas the forced friendships have always seemed natural.  So there we have it, friendship is a force.  And with all there is to gain from forced friendships, I can’t help but be thankful for assigned seats.

Similar post from the same author: The Invisible Touch, Yeah (The 2nd Installment)

People are the Meaning of Life, Part 2

It’s a fact. There has never been another year in history (2009) when this many well-known people have died, namely middle aged celebrities, Michael Jackson being the foremost.  I keep thinking of the lyrics to that Lynyrd Skynyrd song, “oh, oh that smell- the smell of death surrounds you”. For a culture that seems to have some roots still grounded in the mindset of a 19 year-old kid (convinced they’re invincible and not really seeming to grasp that they actually will get old one day if and only if they live that long), we are now being forced to consciously think about it: There is a 100% chance of death for all of us. Life is a trap- no one gets out alive.

Not only does that require us to evaluate our lives, but it forces us to make at least one conscious attempt to nail down our view of the After Life. Because despite what we allow ourselves to safely believe, there can only be one absolute truth about life after death. Not everyone can be right. That’s the security, necessary exclusiveness, and hope that a faith brings.

Just like the way the male baldness gene randomly shows up in some men by age 20, while for others it leaves them alone for quite a while, the same “hot potato” concept goes for death. If everything goes as expected, we will live into our 70’s. But there are many variables that just can’t be controlled. There’s a redneck cup koozie I’ve seen before at gas stations that says in neon rainbow colors on a forest green background: “Eat right, exercise, don’t smoke… Die anyway!”

Being that I work in the transportation industry, someone a few weeks ago was trying to make a point to me about a particular safety issue regarding an 18 wheeler truck and in an effort that I feel crossed the line because it brought my personal life into a work environment, I was asked this question in front of others as a fear tactic: “How would you feel if a big rig ran into you and killed you?”

I pretended to listen and pay attention to what the person continued to say after that, knowing it didn’t matter anyway because I knew I was right and I later proved it through course of action instead of words. But ultimately on the inside I was doing my best to keep from saying out loud, “How would I feel if I died? I probably wouldn’t feel anything. I would be dead, you moron.”

Admittedly, that lame attempt to prove a wrong point to me actually has caused me to truly give thought to “dying before my time”. I am solid in my beliefs about my eternal destination. But the ultimate sadness of death is knowing that the 50 remaining years I have planned out in my head, with my wife and my family and my friends, are at this point just that- plans.

Either I get those years with the people I love or I don’t. And I have no control over that. Therefore, it makes me over-aware that each passing year I live is nothing but God’s grace. He allows me to continue to share life with these people. That is the reason I am still alive.

I used to have this way of thinking that if I didn’t talk out loud about my fears, they wouldn’t come true. But now I’m talking. Knowing that it’s not up to fate or something I can jinx; it’s up to God choosing to keep me around.

The downside of being happy about my life is knowing that it’s not guaranteed another second. Like the previously mentioned “hot potato” concept, in a sense we are forced to play Russian Roulette every day we wake up. So far so good. We’re all still alive. But the thought of missing out on life, which is the people in it, which are the meaning of life- deeply saddens me.

So this helps to explain why I am constantly called “Grandpa” when I drive, often going under the speed limit and never taking my eyes off the road. And it better explains why I am so focused on healthy eating and exercise. It’s why I won’t jump off into water I can’t see the bottom of. It’s why I never say good-bye to my wife without letting her know I love her.

People are the meaning of life. And in a related yet also almost opposite perspective, the real reason death is so scary is the fact is that it removes us from the people we love and the lifetime we’ve shared with them. Death takes us away from the meaning of life. We’re not afraid of dying, we afraid of losing life. That moment when everything we’ve ever known becomes like an old series of blurry dreams, and we wake up to the ultimate First Day in a New Place.

“I am invincible as long as I’m alive.” -John Mayer (“No Such Thing”)

“And if I go before I’m old, oh brother of mine please don’t forget me if I go… When I was young I didn’t think about it, now I just can’t get it off my mind.”
-Dave Matthews Band (“Bartender”)