Since joining with the writers at Pol-Uk I have been hunting down Polish poets and writers.
a friend is someone who comes round to
your house with a stack of books
and cares for nothing least of all
themselves when you ask after their health
a friend is someone who at some undefined
hour comes round your house
and does not leave you with a stack of five or
six books but gracefully
recounts where they've been and by whose grave
they first learnt the truth about themselves
by Eugeniusz Tkaczyszyn-Dycki
If a definition of friendship rested on who came around to visit, either at some arranged hour or an undefined one then I would have to say that I have very few, if any, friends. I am not a “visited” person. It could be down to people never finding me in when they have come on the off chance. However, I could claim a friendship with people if it was down to popping round on the off chance.
If a definition of friendship rested on bringing stuff with you – a pile of books for example, then again seeing as I don’t have people coming around in the first place, much less bringing a pile of books with them, I would have to say I have few, if any friends. My husband is of the firm conviction that if we visit people we should take something with us, a packet of biscuits rather than a pile of books.
It has really been the second verse that has done the repeating. I’m not really that good at analysing poetry and looking beneath the metaphors and images to dig out truth, but the line about gracefully recounting “where they’ve been” has hit a chord. It can be an easy option to bring the books and shrug off the question, “And how’s life?” by a casual reply, “I’m fine.” We leave their home with the taste of tea and biscuits in our mouth but nothing much has changed – we have not given anything significant away in terms of where we’ve been, and we’ve not taken with us anything from the other person about where they have been.
It occurred to me a couple of weeks ago that I am perhaps more of the bringing-the-books person than I am of the recounting-where-I-have-been person. I guard my privacy tightly and I dole out “myself” with a lack of generosity. If I am a stranger to too many people, it is my own fault not theirs. Perhaps the lack of people popping in is in direct correlation to that lack of generosity in giving myself to others.
I was challenged to do something about it. A young man sat down next to me at church the other week. It was the usual “And how’s life?” opening. I chose not to go with the response “I’m fine” and talked about some of the challenges I was facing and the need to make wise and loving decisions rather easy ones. We talked at length, him giving me his perspective on things, listening to my concerns, re-thinking his response in the light of them and so the conversation went on. I don’t think he was expecting something other than “I’m fine”. When it came to me asking the question of him “And how’s life?” he would not have chosen the “I’m fine” line anyway. He talked about his plans for college and balancing that with a job and looking after his family.
It was a conversation without a book exchange, but an exchange of life, truth and experience.
It was a good conversation.