“The thing you’re most proud of”

2006-01-19

in Writing

Last night, I had an extremely diverse collection of dreams. Most enjoyably, I dreamed about being in well-loved places with old friends: some of whom I haven’t seen in years. The strangest thing about such dreams is not how this familiar house can get transposed into that well known place or how these two friends, known years apart and who have never met, can appear together; rather, it’s how all these sorts of things can happen without eliciting surprise, often for several hours after you wake up, start drinking tea, and steel yourself for another day of academic reading.

After reading his entry about his father’s ‘journalling jar,’ filled with possible topics for journalling or blogging, I asked Tony whether I might make an attempt at one of them. The topic dutifully provided: “The thing you’re most proud of.” To me, this is an extremely straightforward question. Without a doubt, the thing I am most proud of is my group of friends.

Why does that come instantly to mind as my response? The reasons are both numerous and compelling. Firstly, one’s group of friends is not primarily a matter of chance. Anyone who lives in a city and goes to schools with 1,000 or 40,000 students has ample opportunity to meet people (though shyness and other factors may work against you). Even so, most people just glance off one another: interacting, perhaps, in some very brief and superficial manner before rebounding on diverging courses, perhaps to meet again in similarly anonymous circumstances. To meet people in the first place, therefore, takes both an application of effort and an acceptance of risk. The latter is especially significant for young people. The risk is generally one of ridicule or embarrassment, each of which stings a great deal for those lacking a solidly defined and defended identity. Indeed, I remember instances of severe embarrassment from five or ten years ago enormously better than those involving any other kind of harm.

Of course there is some element of chance involved in meeting people in such a way that you remember one another and seek each other’s company again. It helps to have one of the right sort of dispositions. It helps to have a memorable name or appearance. One cannot ever completely expunge chance from any complex human behaviour. That said, in this case it does not seem to me that chance is so serious a factor that it belittles the point I am trying to make. There’s nothing random about which people from around the world I would most like to come visit me here, or travel with somewhere else.

Spending the last four months or so in Oxford has been a reminder of another reason for which I am proud of my group of friends. Even with all my deficiencies with regards to long distance communication – my response to Meghan’s elegant letter from October still sits incomplete on my table – I have generally been able to maintain some kind of contact (perhaps infrequent, perhaps fairly concise) with almost everyone who I particularly want to know in ten and twenty years’ time.

I am proud of my friends because I feel them to be a diverse group and – critically – not one that would have assembled as it has without my involvement. One of the reasons for which I most enjoy throwing parties is because it gives me the chance to introduce people who might otherwise never see each other, but who are likely to have a connection. Introducing friends from one school or another, one group or another, or other combinations of times and places is a very gratifying experience. Perhaps that’s because it fosters the illusion of being central. Of course, there are many nodes to any social group (as many as there are participants, really) and there is a danger of this becoming some kind of Facebook-mimicking ‘look how many friends I have’ declaration. While that is related to what I mean, it has entirely the wrong tone.

The biggest reason for which I am proud of having developed the collection of friends I have is the way it changes the appearance of the future. In a profound and comprehensive way, a future that is peppered with people like Tristan, Jonathan, and Alison is much more easily embraced than one filled with faceless possibility. Partly, that’s the same sense of shared endeavour as is making the M.Phil program feel so rewarding. Partly, it’s the important knowledge that I will not be alone during the years ahead: perhaps the single greatest anxiety of the nervous extrovert.

In closing, I should stress one point that isn’t entirely obvious in the self-obsessed paragraphs above. This really is a remarkable group of people: honest, communicative, interesting, talented, and genuine. Every person who I call my friend impresses me in some way and has some capability that – even if I know I will never possess myself – I know myself to be the richer for having nearby. Likewise, I feel deeply indebted for all the instances of unprovoked generosity and aid that have taken place over the years. Particularly when I’ve been languishing in some sudden feeling of lingering solitude, it has been welcome indeed to be dragged off for a walk, a cup of coffee, or some more ambitious adventure.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Milan January 19, 2006 at 10:53 am

On an unrelated but interesting note, the NASA Stardust mission has released another piece of good news. The capsule landed intact and has now been opened, revealing that comet material has been successfully collected. Exciting stuff.

B January 19, 2006 at 10:51 pm

This is a good answer, but if I were you, I might be proud of my photography. You’ve done some wicked stuff, much as I like to bust your chops about technical flubs.

It’s at http://photo.sindark.com for the uninitiated

Anonymous January 20, 2006 at 12:56 am

Here’s Tony’s post on this topic.

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