Who Claims You?
Your stories about the size of "you and yours"
Catching up on some of my reader roundups, during one of our conversations last year, I asked where you belong to a “y’all”? Where are you known, not for your job, but by who is responsible for you and vice versa. Where does friendship get recognizes as a core part of your identity?
For Magdalen, the question of “how are you and yours?” comes from someone who, as far as I understand her, has not met the people she asks after:
You know, that makes me realize that my hair dresser always asks how my parents and siblings are doing! I think she's the only person in my life who does that, every time I see her, totally unprompted.
Martha, who has such a strong civic spirit that she keeps pitching me on moving to Minnesota (too cold!) reflected on how a trip showed her the different strong roots she could have held to:
My son and I recently went to a family burial on the east coast. The gravesite has multiple generations, with more family buried a short distance away, going back a dozen plus generations. If we lived in that town, 'ya'll' would *mean* something very different than what it has meant to me. My grandmother is quite purposefully buried in a small plot in Northern Minnesota rather than there. In my heart my roots are in Minnesota, and 'ya'll' means my immediate family, sometimes my cousins, sometimes my city & state more broadly, sometimes a wonderful group of college friends, sometimes a cohort of fellow workers.
As Melanie Bettinelli points out, time can shrink the shadow of “your people.”
Now that my in-laws are both dead one of thing things I have noticed missing is having someone who regularly greeted me by asking how my parents and siblings are. No one else I see regularly know them or bothers to ask. Of course, being Bostonians, they didn't use y'all, but it did still feel homey to this displaced Southerner.
It reminds me of C.S. Lewis’s thoughts from The Four Loves on what the surviving friends lose when a mutual friend dies:
If, of three friends (A, B, and C), A should die, then B loses not only A but “A’s part in C,” while C loses not only A but “A’s part in B.” In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets. Now that Charles is dead, I shall never again see Ronald’s reaction to a specifically Caroline joke. Far from having more of Ronald, having him “to myself” now that Charles is away, I have less of Ronald.
RGHY noted that some tribes are easier to notice and ask after than others:
Just this past Saturday, when reintroducing myself to another parent at the playground, I said "I know you as so-and-so's friend!" And after that exchange, we played a creditable round of "Jewish geography"--i.e. when a bunch of Jews tries to figure out what sort of connections they have in common ("your friend's fiancé went to college with my sister!"). Tellingly, I think, it can be just as delightful to find a connection through a friend as through a relative; these links serve to make a stranger more familiar, and they gain an identity in your eyes via a connection with someone you already know.
I'd argue that though friendship doesn't have the obvious signs of affiliation that family (name, features), religion (jewelry/clothing), sports team allegiance (clothing), and many other forms of public identity do, it still offers a very strong private or social identity. (This might be part of the attraction and value of friendship, that it doesn't require such declarations, but that's an argument for another time.)
In RGHY’s experience, loving a friend meant coming to love and have hopes for someone RGHY had never met in person:
We often hear a great deal about our friends' friends, even those we are never going to meet. My friend in Oregon has a male friend struggling to find a girlfriend interested in marriage; because he is a "friend of 'Sasha,'" I have grown to care about his happiness, too. His identity as my friend's friend means that he now has someone across the country wishing him well. And of course, there are more concrete manifestations of friendship's benefits—you may offer money or time or advice to someone solely because they are a friend of a friend.
Which leaves us with the interesting question of where and when you bring your friends into other parts of your life. I loved the year and a half I spent hosting debates in my living room in D.C. for many reasons, but in part because it gave me such a natural place to mix friend groups and bring the people I cared for into contact with each other.