There’s a scene in The English Patient where the nurse Hana tells Almásy of the arrival of the thief Caravaggio. She mentions that he’s Canadian, and Almásy wonders why that matters, why people are “always so happy to collide with someone from the same place”. Hana replies that during the war, where you come from becomes important.
In the last few months, I’ve become increasingly convinced of this. It’s not that there’s a war on – I mean, there are many wars, but few that touch my life directly – it’s that spending time in the same place gives you a shared vocabulary, a set of references, of people and places and things that provide context that can then go unspoken.
When people from junior high and high school started to turn up on Facebook a few years ago, I did the mass-friending, only to be reminded that I didn’t really like most of those people in high school, and so didn’t really have much interest in rekindling relationships that never really existed. I removed most of the high school people just as quickly as I added them – with the exception of those who seemed interested in actually being friends, not just performing friendship by friending.
My friend Natalie fell into the latter group. I’ve known Nat since the third grade, when her family moved to Illinois and her dad became principal at our school. With the exception of one week at camp, I don’t know that we were ever really friends in grade school and junior high – and then we went to different high schools, and the rest would be history if it weren’t for Facebook and P90X.
About two years ago, Nat started blogging about her path to fitness via P90X and running. Her posts were hilarious, honest, and motivational, and provided a connection and a path to actual friendship. When she finished P90X and ran her first half marathon, I sent her a package including a BRING IT pin – I have the same pin on my backpack.
Nat was in town a few weeks ago to cheer her cousin on in the Chicago marathon, and we made a point of carving time out of the busy race weekend to meet up for brunch. I wasn’t sure what to expect – it was probably the first time we’d hung out apart from church functions since junior high – but instead of the likely awkward small talk between acquaintances, we had a lovely, rambling meal and talked about everything from our parents’ retirement to sex ed to running to our struggles to find a place to fit in (or out of) a church.
I don’t know how much of this friendship can be credited to where we come from – It’s not that Mr. Steely’s 8th grade science class provided a foundation for this friendship, or that it came up in our conversation at all. But it was there, as were all of the other artifacts of growing up in the same place at the same time around the same people and experiences. And perhaps that was just enough to ground what could have otherwise been an ephemeral Facebook friendship.
Either way, I’m thankful for Nat’s friendship, though I might feel differently by next October if we follow through with our hare-brained plan to run the marathon. I’m also thankful that no matter how rough we look when we cross the finish line, we’re almost certainly guaranteed to look better than we do here: