It’s always interesting meeting new friends and getting to know who they are. Those first few months of spinning yarns and slowly earning each other’s trust. Learning to see what their strengths and weaknesses are from an outsider’s perspective. Those awesome occasions once you’ve heard all their stories and share memories with them and you’re put into a position where they finally trust you enough to bring you into their home.
Call it the chapter when you introduce all of the side characters, your friend’s parents or partner, their cousins or relatives, and friends. Even the decorations around their home and the general vibe speaks novels about a person and why they are who they are. Everything that you weren’t told seems to come out after the first few times you visit a person’s home. Like opening a sandwich you bought from the bakery. It’s contents become more obvious over time.
Now it’s not to say that you could just waltz into somebodies home and figure out every nasty thought they’d ever had, although you could just read the labelling on the shelf before you became invested in the sandwich. But it means you get to see some of a person’s primary characteristics being overlaid inside the place they grew up in, inclusive of the other people they live with.
This happens to me from time to time. From friend’s whose parents are armed defenders squad soldiers to newly wedded families with a new cat. Booming business-owning families all the way to stoners with nothing better to do than drive doughnuts in their backyard to piss off their neighbours. But for the sake of this talk, I want to reflect on one particular friend whose family taught me that you can survive primarily on love. That you can survive on the warmth generated by love as if to say that same sandwich only needed one ingredient.
When I was a depressed little teenager, my family shifted cities. We moved into this neighbourhood called Cashmere in this earthquake-prone city called Christchurch. Now little did I know that being socially awkward and noticeably anxious in a school full of shaken up teens makes it really really difficult to make new mates. It would be more productive to try to make fruit bread by toasting an apple.
Long story short I eventually made a group of mates. It took them a while to realize that I was just a massive softy. The kind of bum who likes cups of tea next to an indoor water feature with a brioche bun filled with avocado and bacon probably with a yummy homemade chutney on a laid back Thursdays 3pm.
It took some time for them to adopt me as a new prospect but somehow they found a way to let me fit in. Surely enough the majority of whom I still talk to today. All of those guys have grown up with me over the last five years from being dramatic and highly reliant teenagers to becoming less dramatic independent adults.
One of my best mates was introduced to me through this group. In how all fashionably classy friendships are made, through bitching about other people we both mutually disliked. The consistent and exaggerated moaning about people we both knew and both despised. An extremely fruitful way to spend hours of cackling with another person, I would recommend.
From then on, my mate and I continued to find the funny in everything. Whether it be about a teacher’s mannerisms all the way to the problems with brands like Beats by Dre. There was a consistency there which eventuated in our friendship. A friendship strong enough to earn his trust and be invited over.
The first time I went around to my mate’s place all I remember hearing was, “mum, Mana’s here.” Like a drill sergeant announcing a captain being on deck. Like an outfit, I went into full mum-mode by putting on my innocent until proven trustworthy face. Through the fly door screen, all I heard was a homely voice saying, “hi Mana I’m (Bob’s) mum.” Followed by a prompt to come inside and not to worry about my shoes.
Dragon’s, rock/metal band posters, ashtrays, and love. That’s all my eyes could see in those first few steps into my mate’s place. They weren’t unshaken. Their family wasn’t perfect. Like many good people, shit happens and you learn to adapt to the situation, get thicker skin, deal with things over time. My friends mum worked hard. Day in and day out both at work and in their home. In the beginning that’s all I saw, just a hard-working, no bullshit New Zealand family. From an external view, a cold and solid livelihood, period.
Meeting my friends family was during a rock bottom period for me. Weighed to the ground by my anxieties, having issues with acceptance of who I was and problems with relationship breakups. The usual teenaged angst type of stuff. A period of time that you really just need help from other people.
When things go tits up, especially as a teenager, it can be really difficult to explain why it happened to parents who don’t really know who you are. Sometimes all you need is to talk to people who you’ve not previously had very much to do with. Sometimes what you need is a second family to kind of induct you into their world.
Family dynamics can become extremely solidified especially when you’ve never known much different. In my case, there had been so much clinging going on, by which I mean it became a case of never wanting to detach from my parents or learn about how others lived. I was so worried about how others might perceive me, Scared of the hammer coming down afraid of their judgment. A cold and stark reality that others only see things from an outsiders perspective.
Meeting other people has this cool feature that gains insight into understanding how other peoples family dynamics can educate unforeseen circumstances kind of like a chef teaching how to cook your favourite dish but better by adding a special ingredient, being more time appropriate or applying some other logic. It’s really as simple as studying others but we should learn about the secret sauce for now. Getting to learn about what lies within the solid centre, or within the breaded sandwich. Trying to understand how my friends family worked was about as powerful as taking cooking lessons.
After some time of appreciating who the people my friend and his family were, eventually you see what’s inside the cold centred middle. Behind the hard-working parenting, the passive bitching between sister and brother. Beyond the no-bullshit typicality of my friend’s kiwi family. It took some time to learn that this was how their family loved each other. A transcendent and loving conversation without words like heat within a freshly minced pie.
Love and acceptance was the currency my friends family traded in. A secret sauce that other people couldn’t corrupt. It was as if they didn’t give a shit about how other people lived and that was so refreshing from a younger and far more insecure little me.
Passively learning about all of their signs from the arguing they always did to the subtle giggling afterwards all the way to the endless talking about Game of Thrones or squabbling about somebody else they didn’t like. The thing that got to me was that my friend’s family didn’t have all the things other families did.
They didn’t have all of the belongings, the fancy cars or illustrious achievements hung up on the walls of their house paraded for everyone to see. They didn’t have an array of university qualifications or even a dominant male figure walking about the house. Their home wasn’t decorated with fancy artwork, instead, there was an occasional ACDC rock band poster resting next to their dining room table.
My point is their home wasn’t rich or even slightly well off. There were no high incomes or even two parents. Instead, there was only a hard-working mother and hard-working, loving not-so-young kids.
His family endured through many shakes that I never dealt with. Literally. During 2010, 2011 and beyond there were severe earthquakes that struck the Christchurch region. Imagine growing up in a place your entire life and having the majority of its terrain, it’s infrastructure being broken and uplifted. The disgruntled unfamiliarity of your livelihood, and yes it sounds dramatic but remember when so little else besides love gels your whole life together, how much would earthquakes unsettle your home life?
Another non-physical language next to love my friends family used was music. It helped to push through the hardships of suffering thousands of earthquakes. One of my memories staying over was listening to the Rock Fm playing late into the night. I thought I’d switch off the radio but was promptly told to put it back on. Not in a police officer kind of way but like mum telling you to eat your food before it goes cold.
Music was a security. It reminded them that they were safe inside of the chords. An empowering force, something that they liked. It let them forget about the shaking, it gave them a sense of stillness. It reminded me of all the times I used music to ease the stress of a situation.
There are endless external sources which could break families apart. Economic, financial, socio-political, earthquakes, you name it. But nothing hardens a family together more or strengthens relationships like an incorruptible love, spoken or not. My mates family taught me everything about staying strong. They even taught me a lot about my friend and why he came off so staunch and concrete.
It was because it takes time and a lot of hard work to earn some peoples trust. Not because they’re unsociable but because that is how they have grown up. With a solid centre. Though from an external position it might seem like they don’t care but in reality, it’s quite literally the opposite. My friends family didn’t have all the privileges but they still had more than the richest or most powerful.
Instead of cars and material belongings, they had relationships. Instead of talking about TED talks we spoke about memories together. It taught me that not every family needed all of the salads or the fanciest meats in their sandwich but instead they could get by using their special ingredient, love.
Be more open to loving discussions. Not necessarily with the next person you meet but instead becoming a source of warmth for those closest to you. My friends family taught me to guard my heart. Not to become invested in external sources like fixating on frivolous spending but instead to be grateful for what I have.
They remind me how we all need to love our family. That we could lose everything in life from our employment to our loved ones. But at the end of the day, as long as you have love as your glue and a mean tune on the radio, nothing can break up your family. And on that note…
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