In the poem, we see a farmer and his wife talking about what to do with their former handyman, who has shown up again after walking out on them some time before.
Their conversation touches on themes of belonging, obligation, loyalty, deserving. The couple have contrasting ideas of what ‘home’ is.
One says ‘it is the place, where, when you have to go there, They have to take you in’, while the other feels that home is ‘something you somehow haven’t to deserve’.
You can see how strongly these ideas relate to friendship. We drift in and out of each other’s lives as circumstances and obligations change, knowing that with long-standing friends in particular, we can pick up where we left off, as if the intervening days or weeks or years hadn’t happened.
We will be taken in again, no questions asked, no recriminations given, even if we are ‘guilty’ of friendship neglect. That’s the way we roll, in these time-starved days, when juggling our commitments takes every ounce of energy and you understand how it is, don’t you?
Well, yes. But a lot can happen in our periods of non-or-minimal contact. Not the huge things, because we would probably get to hear of those, but the smaller everyday events, disasters, triumphs, disappointments and pleasures which make up our lives.
Leave it too long, or invest too little thought and energy, and without realising it you can become not the close friend you were, but someone a little more distant, someone who hadn’t realised that your friend has had a medical scare, or a trial separation from their partner, or a lovely weekend in the Lake District, or a row with a family member.
We can nurture our valuable friendships while still meeting other commitments. Small actions, which take very little time, have a cumulative effect and keep us connected in spite of the constraints on our time.
Little and often
We can organise the weekend away with our pals, or the big night out, but these are likely to be infrequent events. Depending on your circumstances, build in opportunities to touch base, either in person or on the phone. A quick coffee when you’re both shopping in town, a synchronised visit to the gym, half an hour when you have the house to yourself. Learn to talk quickly and concentrate ferociously.
There is a fine line between grabbing opportunities and always putting someone last. Identify and ringfence time for friends.
Saw/heard this and thought of you
It could be anything — a headline, a postcard, a song, a photo, anything that has relevance to your friendship. It might be a memory of something you shared, or of a particular period in your lives, or something which calls to mind your pal’s personality and tastes.
Best of all is something to make them laugh. It takes no time to send the link or a text or even the artefact or photocopy. Careful though — why exactly does the picture of that dodgy haircut circa 1985 bring me to mind?
Keep the connection alive and make the best use of your time with summaries and soundbites — ‘I need to tell you about what Donna did/Donna’s news/our flat-pack fiasco/the AGM…’
This way, both of you can pile straight in with what’s on your minds and avoid the frustrating ‘Oh, I forgot to say about..’ moment when the conversation is over.
Rituals and memories
Familiar places and activities help to create a bond. A particular cafe or bar or table in the pub, a defined meeting point, a certain routine, all help to reinforce your place in each other’s lives.
There is something very comforting and intimate about ‘Usual place?’ You build a narrative of ‘We always…’ or ‘Remember when we used to…’ that acknowledges and celebrates your joint history.
Creating a living story
Let your friendship evolve with your lives. Adjust to new people, new activities, new preoccupations. Don’t drop the thread that connects you because someone gets married, gets rich, emigrates, has children, runs with a different crowd. Let new words and phrases become part of your communication.
Back to the hired man in the poem. Good friends will take you in, whether you deserve it or not. But we can make it easier for each other.
Silas the handyman hurt his friends, the farmer in particular, and when he was ready to forgive, it was too late. We won’t trivialise an important poem by saying if only Silas had taken a moment to drop the odd line, but you know….