Life is a book. People are chapters.
When I used to think of my life, I used to divide my life up by the years that came and went. Every year was a different chapter. I thought about my existence in terms of the number of trips I had taken around the sun. I changed my thinking about this after realizing that the chapters of my life were nothing like one another. Some years could be summed up in mere sentences, while others would take pages upon pages to reach any sort of decent conclusion. Some portions of my life have been so full, so packed with adventure and connection and meaning and love, that even if they only encompassed a few months or weeks, they hold a very dear place in my heart and deserve to be considered their own “chapter”.
Time isn’t the same thing that it was in my younger adult years. But this really isn’t a post about time, it’s a post about friendship.
Friendship is this magical thing that just sort of happens. Children get a little practice in with the kids in their neighborhoods or at their elementary schools, teenagers navigate what it means to be there for other people and how to balance that with their own importance, and young adults learn the often heartbreaking lesson that people don’t stick around forever.
When I had a tarot card reading recently, the reader pulled a card for every aspect of my life. The card that he ended up pulling for “friendship” was a card with a moon on it, which pictured the moon hanging over a sleeping town in the middle of the night. The reader told me this means that, when it comes to friendship, I don’t have to do anything. My friendships just happen. This made sense to me, as even when I don’t put in very much effort, friendships seem to take root. This is something that I don’t take for granted.
I think receiving this friendship reading at the beginning of the summer gave me permission to really take a step back and not worry about the relationships I was cultivating for myself this season. The friendships I already had have grown in different directions the past few months, a few new ones have blossomed, and I’ve cherished time to myself.
A revelation that I was coming to about friendship as a whole at the beginning of this summer was the idea that people are only visitors. In the seasons of my life, there have been times when certain people are playing a main role. Then there are times when they play a recurring role, or they just stop by for a quick guest stint. Sometimes they’re entirely absent. This is just how things go. This is just how things go.
Chapter of the Ice
When I lived in Antarctica for four months over the winter of 2016-17, I found myself in a strange position, one where the days felt like weeks and the weeks felt like months. I attribute this to a number of different factors, including my 60-hour work week, the fact that the sun never set (which effectively made the entire experience feel like one long day), and the extreme isolation of the continent, which just creates a really unique way of life.
Now, having left Antarctica behind me, it feels like I lived in a time warp. While I was there, life was infinite, an entire existence happened for me over just a brief period of time. The relationships I formed there felt as though they had been forged in my early childhood years and carried with me throughout my lifetime. It was nothing short of a magical experience, getting to connect on such a deep level with so many people so quickly.
My job was the stand out reason why I felt so connected to the people around me. If you spend 60 hours a week with anyone, you’re going to either end up hating their guts or becoming best friends with them. Fortunately, I experienced the latter. From 10am to 8pm six days a week, I was with the same people. Our jobs consistently presented us with the same tasks, which gave us the same end goal: Survive the shift, make it to 8:00. It was bonding. Then, having spent so much time together already, we had connected so much more deeply with one another than anyone else on station, so we spent all of our free time together too. And so, all of a sudden, people I knew nothing about in October were all of a sudden the central characters in my life in November and December.
But then the experience ended. And, though I didn’t know it at the time, that was it.
When a summer season (October to February) in Antarctica wraps, everyone gets shipped off of the ice in droves. There are typically just a few flights to and from Antarctica each week, bringing supplies and some personnel, but at the end of the season, the number of flights increases. In the matter of a week, everyone leaves the continent. I was on the last flight out, so by the end of the week, there were only a few hundred people left on the station and each flight that had taken off ahead of me had taken away people that had been central in my life.
When the last flight took off, with me on it, my Antarctic experience was over. We landed in New Zealand, and I hit the ground running, ecstatic to be experiencing the smell of rain, the power of the darkness of night. I saw a number of my friends out at a club my first night back in the “real world”, but by the next morning, we were all going our separate ways and…it was over.
There were a handful of friends in particular that I spent so much time with in Antarctica that it was jarring to part ways with them. In the case of my roommate, for example, we spent 10 hours a day together for work, and then we would often spend anywhere between 1 and six hours each evening with our friends before heading back to our room where we would spend the entire night together. Obviously, for a portion of the time we were sleeping, but I would estimate that frequently we were together for anywhere between 12 and 18 hours of each day. If you count being asleep, I’m certain there were some days where we were literally together for 22 or 23 hours.
That doesn’t even seem healthy to write, but we were really close friends, so it worked.
To go from ALL to NOTHING so drastically would have caught me completely off guard back in New Zealand, but I was hiking with one of my “ice friends” on the south island, so I was distracted by the constant physical excursion, the smell of trees and rain, the chance to look at new people for the first time in months, etc. We traversed the country for a few weeks. He was good company.
But then the hiking stopped.
And my companion went home.
So I went to Australia and explored Sydney, a city that was far too big for my brain to comprehend. Then I flew back to the United States and saw my family, constant lead characters in the chapters of my life. Then I went to Guyana for three weeks to reconnect with the people I had built that chapter of my life with a year and a half prior.
Life just picked right back up.
By the time the dust settled, all of those main characters of my chapter on the Ice had vanished back into their own stories. And there I was, looking head on at a brand new season, a new chapter, and I needed to recast my entire ensemble. All of those main characters quickly became completely absent or simple guest stars, appearing in a Skype call or a weekend getaway just one or two times. There was the smallest amount of carryover from chapter to chapter, but, for all in tents and purposes, the chapter about Antarctica (and all of its characters) was finished, and a new chapter needed to be written.
The Other Side
I’m on the lookout more now than ever for the types of people that wander into my life. Will they be sticking around for a while? Are they only meant to be a part of my story for a page or two? It doesn’t really matter. The significance is certainly not in the length of time that we spend with someone. I’ve learned that over and over again, but specifically from my time on the Ice.
In the end, life is a book and people are chapters. Or, at least, they only belong in some of the chapters. It’s a rare thing for someone to be in all of the chapters of a life. It’s not about how many chapters certain characters are in. Chapters are meant to be a piece of the whole, they aren’t the whole story. They can be reread and remembered as frequently or as infrequently as we’d like. I take solace in that. I smile too, sometimes even out into the open, when I recall just how magical some of the chapters of my life have been, and all of the characters in them.