Consider for a moment the people in your life. They orbit you in circles emanating from your center. Some are close in proximity. Some are close in connection. Some are close in quantity of contact. Some are close in shared beliefs. Some are work connections, some are social connections, and some are both. Some you seek and some seek you. All form the fabric of a universe within which you orbit and, in turn, orbits you.
With curious serendipity, I had the benefit of encountering a collection of friends over the last seven days that has left me contemplating the power of moments and the gravity of affection.
Early in the week, a friend and mentor celebrated his birthday. For over 30 years, our orbits have fluctuated between distant apogee and intimate perigee though always present regardless of distance. We celebrated his birthday via text as he walked along a post-storm California beach, enjoying a cigar and contemplating the endless horizon beyond the Pacific. He quipped that he was “chatting of cabbages and kings with a pod of happy dolphins.”
A few days before, Sally and I visited a pair of friends in their new home. Close, “child-rearing years” friends of ours, they had made the shift from the family home to a house designed for empty-nesters with adult children. The shifting orbits of our lives and COVID-19 have made such visits far less frequent but the pull remains and the evening flowed with the easy comfort of countless shared moments.
A relatively new friend also celebrated his birthday this week. Over breakfast, we talked of politics, faith, family, and the challenges of 2020. A moment reminding me that meaningful relationships can be formed at all stages of life – no matter how set or stuck we may become in the firmament of our own habits and beliefs.
A spontaneous run to Costco shifted our orbit toward another pair of long-time friends as we pulled our cart up behind them at the checkout. Through 15 minutes of time in line and another 20 minutes in the parking lot, we caught-up on grown children scattered, pending births of grandchildren, and job updates. All the while, we laughed about shared memories as co-conspirators who have walked a mile or two together through life’s challenges.
Last night, we gathered around the dinner table with our children, grandchildren, and another friend who joined us after celebrating Mass. A priest navigating the difficulties of serving the faithful in the era of COVID, he shared his own brand of hope and insight into the challenges, and the opportunities, of these times. Our celebration reflected the simple joy of togetherness and our quest for some sense of normalcy in a mad world.
Moments. They are all around us. Look closely and you will see the patterns and the threads that weave in and among us, pulling us together. The shared fabric of history, stories, and mutual experience binds us in moments. We are journeying together – walking a path laden with seemingly arbitrary encounters. However, those with whom you cross orbits are not random points on a spectrum, they are pulled to you, and you to them, by gravity. The gravity of affection.
This year, scarcity and a sense of danger have raised the value of human contact and made the moments with those we value priceless in a profoundly new way. Perhaps this week was just a fortunate week for me in the moments I shared. Maybe a random collection of friendships dotted across the landscape of my life came together in a cosmic burst of serendipity. Perhaps.
Or, maybe this convergence of good will, this gravity of affection, came together with more purpose. Perhaps we all needed our orbits to cross at this particular moment. Hmm.
This morning, the wind is blowing and rain is here. Winter is coming. We are not made to walk alone. We are not made for isolation. The gravity of affection that holds our orbits relative to those important people in our lives requires maintenance. We very much need for our paths to cross.
The more we retreat, the easier, and more habitual, retreat becomes. Habits are forming today. They will be reinforced tomorrow. They will be hardened in 90 days. The dangerous edge hides in the small choices. The small retreats accrue to larger losses: losses of time, losses of connection, losses of priority, losses of possibility, losses of self.
Today, take a look at those orbiting in your universe. Consider what life looks like when those paths no longer cross. A touching obituary for someone I knew also crossed my path this week. It was a sober reminder that all of our moments in life are slipping away in time’s hour glass. Don’t lose yourself in the cold space of fear and isolation. Recognize the gravity of affection and follow its pull.