I am fortunate to have had good role models during my life, and here I count my parents and grandparents foremost. Their lives are and were journeys toward a distant goal, without either map or sense of direction. This is the the nature of my journey too, and it cannot be any other way – there can be no map, because both the mind and the world are ever changing territories.
Some things are however constant and coupled with the human condition. As humans, we go through crises, we experience loss of relations and property, we grow old, we are hurt and go through illness.
We do however also form relationships, with friends, family, and a partner. We experience joy together with people who matter to us, and share music, dance, and laughter. And in ones orienting through the wilderness of the mapless mind, the told and experienced stories of your role models are not only valuable, but most necessary assets. They do not provide one with a map, but convey knowledge about marshes to avoid, and hills with great views that are not to be missed.
Through my professional life, I have experienced formal mentorships which have been important to me and my development as a physician. I do tend to be a difficult apprentice though, since I am never fully satisfied with only the professional advice I get. I am also curious about how my mentors live their lives, and some are generous in telling me, some are not, making it clear that I have ventured into an area marked as private.
My dream has been to find a mentor in life, in all aspects corresponding to an authority in humanship, as previously written about in this blog. Now, how does one find such a person?
For nearly fifteen years of my life I made no new friends. During that time I started a family with my wife, and we had two of our three children. At work I had acquaintances, people who I talked to on a daily basis, but who I never made a bond of friendship with. I had even surrendered to the fact that this was how life was going to be. I had the friends I already had, even though they were becoming estranged to me because of my lack of interest in keeping in contact with them. I thought that my wife and my kids could be my friends, and perhaps I did not need any other?
Loneliness is however the inevitable companion of friendlessness, and however much I loved my wife and children, they could not serve as a full substitute for friends. The problem was of course one of my own making. If you do not trust, do not help, do not accept favours, and do not confide in your fellow humans, they will distance themselves from you. My loneliness was a direct consequence of my own personal goals of autonomy, self-sufficiency, and freedom.
This all changed when my family and I moved to Älvsund, and Lennart, my nowadays very good friend and neighbour, adopted himself into our family. Lennart is a man in his early seventies who lives, and has lived his whole life, on a farm neighbouring ours. He is modest, both in his appearance and his ways, and has a wonderful, witty, sense of humour, loving to tell jokes and make word-puns.
Image above: Lennart’s and Kethy’s farm to the right as seen from our front door.
Lennart never asked if my family and I needed help, knowing that we had probably refused it, instead just helping when he saw we needed help. Not having lived in a small rural community before, we needed help with a lot, both practical and spiritual matters. When we moved to Älvsund, I did not even own a pair of boots!
Lennart does not count the favours he provides, which confronted my with my own rigid and impractical views on favours. He tought me to accept his services, provide him and his family with the help they needed from me, and not to keep count.
My family and I were generously welcomed into Lennart’s, and his wife Kethy’s family, and became recipients of their unconditional neighbourly love. For the first time in many years, I had made friends.
Now Lennart is not only a friend to me. During hour-long walks with our dogs in the forests surrounding Älvsund we have also gotten the opportunity to mix our discussions about local history and geography, and the people of the village, present and past, with talks about the errors we have made in our lives, the misgivings we have experienced, and the happy times we have lived through.
Lennart is not just generous in practical matters and in love, but also with himself, not shying away from the stories about the mistakes he has made in his life. This of course is most valuable for me, hopefully meaning that I will not be making the same mistakes in mine. This way, Lennart became a mentor in life for me, although officially not accepting this honorary position because of his modest nature.
Much because of Lennart’s generosity and attitude towards life, I rediscovered friendship as a necessity in life, and my wife and I are now very happy to count many of our neighbours in Älvsund as our good friends.
As you have probably understood by now, I find making friends in early middle-aged life quite a challenge. For me, being an introvert, immersing myself into rural village life was a clear advantage. The villagers in Älvsund know each other well, being acquainted with both each others good and bad aspects, but still care for their neighbourly relations. In the end it is quite simple: We need eachother. When one is stuck with ones car in a snowfilled ditch during winter, one needs help, and therefore you help others who are stuck.
Modern life offers many opportunities for establishing contacts with other human beings, and for creating large professional and interest based networks. Today it is probably simpler than ever before to make acquaintances, and this is good, but paradoxically, it is probably harder than ever before to make friends.
The very pace of our social evolution and the accelerating velocity of our electronical interactions make relationships of depth seem inefficient and time-consuming. And they can be in the short term of the daily lives we are preoccupied with. In the long run however, caring for ones family, friends, and neighbours, getting to know the people around you, are valuable investments in ones own personal growth.
Gathering around the kitchen table for coffee or food with good friends, speaking ones mind, and sharing whatever stories from present and past that come to my mind, and listening to the stories told by friends are nowadays a part of my life. It is a source of both pleasure, gratitude and compassion, all of which are necessities for living a good life.