I'm heading north next week for a brief visit--mostly on business, though I've arranged to have some social time as well. Maybe I should have asked you if you wanted to get together, but on short notice with such a narrow window, I assumed you would not. I don't even know if you'll be in the area yourself.
But I have been making plans with other friends. Everybody's busy, of course, and I don't want to sound intrusive or demanding, so when a friend and I were discussing whether to meet at a community event or to go for a walk, just the two of us, I couched the possibilities in very cautious, understanding terms. His response both startled and warmed me.
He said that his "slightly selfish request" was that we do both.
Of course, that is very convenient, because that is my preference as well--slightly selfish or not. But beyond being convenient...it's not that I'm unpopular these days, most people like me, but when I try to make time to see my busy friends, I often feel as though I'm asking for a favor, a favor they are happy to grant, because they like me, but a favor nonetheless. I'm busy, too, but if someone showed up to visit, I'd do whatever I had to to make time to see them, and I'd be grateful that they had come. But no one comes, and when I go visiting I am cautious, careful to not wear out my welcome. I seem to be peripheral to most of the lives that are central to mine. For someone to want to spend time with me selfishly is a very great gift, the gift of being genuinely wanted.
But is that really what friendships are? A congruency of gentle selfishness, where I want your attention and you want mine, and so we trade? A year ago I would have said no. I was so dedicated to high-minded ideas of selfless generosity. Since then I have had reason to doubt that; it seems like no matter how hard I try to be generous, I still want something. I want to matter to others. I want my generosity to be helpful and wanted. And it isn't always, and when it isn't I feel just as rejected and thwarted as if I had wanted something for myself outright. So what is the point? Is it even possible to be anything other than selfish? Maybe a congruency of gentle selfishness is all there can be.
In any case, at this point, I want to be wanted, I want to relax into another's gratitude for my presence, to not worry that perhaps others have had enough of me and are hoping I'll take some hint...I want to at least not feel selfish for wanting a friend's company.
In the meantime, spring has sprung. The silver maples are setting seed, the heart-shaped ovaries of their tiny red flowers starting to widen, widen, towards they keys they will become. The red maples are close on their heels. I haven't noticed the elms lately, what they're doing, but I think the sweet gum is in flower now, or nearly so. Some of the grasses are flowering, as are the little herbs of the lawns and road verges and fallow fields--I don't know their names. The daffodils and forsythia are blooming in gardens and along roadsides here and there, maybe where houses used to be.
The birds sing all day, a wall of sound, a crowd of sound, a huge, chattering, musical crowd. Is there something about song that makes sound easier to detect? Annie Dillard wrote that it doesn't really matter why birds sing; the important question is why is it beautiful? I'm willing to argue that this is not the only important question, but I agree it is an interesting one. Maybe there is something about song, a certain class of sounds, that make them useful in a crowd of voices, and so both we and the songbirds are attracted to those sounds? But in that case, why don't we, too, speak in song? Why don't human crowds sounds like this?
I was listening the other day, listing to the almost solid wall of song, and it went on and on and on, hour upon hour. And just when I was thinking that I should tell you about it, it all stopped. All the birds stopped singing at once. If they were human, that would have been the moment when one of them, not realizing that it was the random moment for silence, would be carried forward by the momentum of speech to say something embarrassing into the lull. Let's see, what might embarrass a bird?
Anyway, they all started up again after about a minute.
I imagine they are simply identifying themselves, for the purpose of marking territories and attracting mates, and that while they may, indeed, find their own songs beautiful (why not? Humans often find our own work beautiful, even if we have prosaic reasons for working), I'm pretty sure they don't worry themselves about whether they are really wanted, and whether they should feel guilty for wanting to be wanted.