On the Fragility of Our Connections

There’s a passage in Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible that describes how one of the preacher’s daughters eventually fell for and married an African revolutionary, how she worked hard to support him in Zaire and Angola and other places so far removed from her native Georgia. I have in my mind’s eye, a pretty young white girl, living deep in the heart of Africa, working the soil in an Angolan agriculture station or waiting, at various times, for her husband to be freed from jail. What sacrifices to familiarity did she make for the sake of her husband. It gets me to thinking about the nature and fragility of friendship, of love and its connections and how people (often) freely change their circumstances and thus the connections they have known all their lives.

Among my immediate circles of friends, some new folks get added from time to time but the cores have so far stayed the same since I was a kid. Of course, these individual sets aren’t mutually inclusive in and of themselves. My friends have other friendships that extend beyond the connections we share. Over time, these groups will shift and change. It’s impossible to know who will remain and who will go, even within the core.

My parents have almost no regular physical contact with the people they knew growing up; their original core, so to speak. The internet enables them to exchange emails and there are occasional phone calls but that’s not the same. Neither parent has lived in Bangladesh since their 20’s.

Our family’s immediate groups of friends in Pittsburgh are also ex-pat Bangladeshis and Indians. These are the ones we see at dinner parties, the ones who get invited to important events like kids’ birthdays and graduations and marriages. It’s a relatively new group, one forged over the past 10-15 years, a small timespan over a person’s life.

I’ve looked through my parents’ photo albums, of their childhoods and their early marital years. I don’t always know the people in the albums’ pictures, their importance to or influence upon my parents, nor how these folks have, in many cases, fallen by the wayside in my parents’ lives. Just as centrally, if I move away from Pittsburgh or the USA, will persons X or Y eventually become the same as persons Z & B from my parents’ past? The converse also applies.

Once again, my mind flashes to a young man; this time, leaving the village to go to Dhaka then to Baltimore and Pittsburgh, living in Basra, Tripoli and southern Nigeria before returning to Pittsburgh years later. How different must he be now to make jokes about eating serpent in Iraq . How different must he seem to his childhood friends, even over email or skype.

Baz Luhrmann one said, “work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle because the older you get, the more you’ll need the people you knew when you were young.” Such a statement implicitly accedes that our childhood/early adulthood friends will not stay the same. In a mobile society, it’s unrealistic to expect to spend one’s life in one locale. Thus maybe it’s also unrealistic to expect that one will always have the same immediate circle of friends.

There’s no shame in it and despite my tone, not even sadness really. Humans are a social creature and so our connections must evolve as do we. I once made up an ‘improved’ version of hop-scotch but haven’t physically seen the best friend who helped come up with the game since we moved from Nigeria in 1986.

Related Article: Communities of the  Third Culture

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  • pxk161

    This reminded me of Jhumpa Lahiri’s “The Third and Final Continent.” It’s a short story in the interpreter of maladies. I thought the book as a whole was just okay and a bit overrated. But I really liked that story.