Interior Punctuation

Someone I know boasts 598 facebook friends. Oh come on. Really? 598 friends? How close can one be to 598 people? Maybe a new word for facebook friendships is in order here. Friends are people with whom you are on intimate terms and for whom you have some kind of affection. I considered acquaintance as an alternative, but it doesn’t work well either because you have to actually have met someone to be acquainted with them. At least that used to be true, although considering the word in today’s culture, that’s not as accurate as it used to be, is it? Our current culture varies so much from yesterday’s that it’s almost unrecognizable. Many words have been dropped from our speech, others have been coined, and still others are changing, their meanings in an almost constant state of flux. Those poor people at Webster’s must be going crazy.

I’m not an ardent facebook user, but the thing I’ve noticed most about it is the focus on the number of “friends” one has. Don’t you wonder why facebook has chosen to highlight that number? Shouldn’t any friendship be rated in terms of its quality rather than its quantity?

Bill and I just concluded what has become an annual holiday party with some of our closest friends.

Christmas ornament

Christmas ornament (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I so love to cook and bake, and the planning, execution, and presentation of meals for people I love is a huge part of this. But it’s about more than the meal. It’s about conversation and shared interests, and the periodic discovery of a gleaming new facet you didn’t know existed in the persona or personality of a long-time friend.

We had a great time the first year we did this, and to enhance the fun the following year, I developed a theme. Year 2 became The Ornament-themed Christmas. I bought ornaments that symbolized an identifiable attribute of each person and handed them out one at a time, prefacing the giving with individualized short poems I wrote for each, expanding on that quality. BIG DISCLAIMER HERE (note the CAPLOCKS) – I do not claim to be any sort of poet. If anything, my feeble attempts were Ogden Nash-ian in nature, and that’s as close as they got to anything remotely recognizable as bona fide poetry. But they did rhyme, more or less.

Year 3 was The Let’s-Play Christmas (pun intended) where I purchased toys that took us back to yesteryear. Wrapping each separately, I set them on the dining room table after dinner, before dessert was served. One at a time, each person chose one, opened it, and read the accompanying notes I’d made in researching that particular toy. Among other things we had a wooden popgun, a wooden train whistle, a magic slate, a ball and jacks, a yo-yo, and a jaw harp. We became kids again, bartering and trading. We laughed long after the crème brûlée had been eaten, the wine glasses had been drained, and the last drop of coffee had left the pot.

This year was A Reader’s Christmas. After dinner I passed around paper and pens, reading a few quotes from the nonfiction books I’d purchased as gifts – books reflecting each person’s interests in some way. A few of those books were Julia’s Cats, A Train in Winter, Catherine the Great, The Red Princess, Resolute, and To Kill the Irishman. Everyone was to develop the next sentence to follow the quote as if they were beginning a story of their own.

One of our friends, Bob, observed how interesting it was to see how everyone’s mind worked – how they processed the quotes differently and came up with interesting additions. People whom we’d all known for years took the assignment and went in various directions, filling out their personal substance and context as they did so, exposing their interior punctuation. Bob mulled over the fact that we’ve “talked to them all these years but don’t really know how their minds work. When you do something like this, you see all the various perspectives and approaches. It’s so fascinating to see how people think.”

An exposition of our interior punctuation. Isn’t this the core of true friendship?

The composition of so many parties begins and ends with the idle conversations of acquaintances who awkwardly toss words back and forth at each other so as not to look, or feel, alone in a crowd. They don’t delve; they don’t reveal. We went a step further, and it was fun as well an enlightening, becoming a happy moment that will hopefully be remembered as an exclamation point of the season. And it was coupled with good friends enjoying each other’s company and getting to know each other better in new ways. It will be remembered for the deepening of friendships, the strengthening of important and valued bonds.

Now the laughter has faded. The fun and games are over. Yet the scent of friendship lingers in the air long after the guests have gone home. Life resumes the course of everyday existence, dressed in its customary blandness and sometime drudgery, highlighted by the occasional bright spot.

Yes, the party’s over. The fire’s embers have turned to ash in the grate, but its success and the strength of our friendships have nothing to do with how many friends we have.

Instead, they glean their strength and substance from each other’s interior punctuation.


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