People surprise you. Disappoint you. Delight you.
There have, for reasons that escape easy explanation, always been people in my life who remain the same core person, to me, over decades. It doesn't matter if years go by and we don't spend much or any time together. If partners change or illness visits or jobs need leaving or expanding. Sometimes the relationship seems so dormant I forget, like the tulip bulbs I planted in the hard ground all those Octobers more than 20 years ago. And when spring comes and somehow they have, again, found their way up again with leaves so delicate they can break under the weight of a winter storm, I am surprised. Those same leaves, stronger than my spade, forced themselves up from the dark and into the light with a will, a direction, a pre-programmed purpose to push through the tough stuff and seek the light.
When we have more time than a passing nod in a crowd or shared hug at a holiday party, when we can sit for a spell and lose track of time, argue over the future of our lives, our country, our career paths, the best flavor of ice cream, we do so with a core understanding these arguments are so personal and intimate they are not personal at all. They are the grist of the relationship that can withstand disagreements and nuanced shifts in perception because we know our core is not part of the debate. We are safe in our opinions and life changes. And, like the place next to the porch where the tulips always find their way through with stems so tough and so fragile depending upon where in the life span the tulip is, I have learned to respect safe common ground as hallowed ground.
I was a guest at a birthday celebration this week where I expected an entirely different party and different crowd. After nearly twenty years of knowing this man I learned more of his core, looking around that tiny room, at the great photos of his, and I was overcome with the beauty of the ordinary. There were fewer people in the room than the years in his life, and he's not that old. The surprise was not in a tony restaurant or giant residence masking as a hotel lobby. The guests, to a person, had a longtime relationship with a good human. His blended family was there, business partners and former girlfriends and former business partners. His kids, still in local schools, had helped with the celebration. It was a simple affair and it might have been given his successes and his friends, a large shiny affair. I was not the oldest living person there. There were a couple of my contemporaries and a six-year-old. From start to finish, it was under two hours.
It was a measure of a man and the life he has created, against the odds. We, his friends, were worried about him, more than once, when life dealt him a series of setbacks that would have flattened lesser humans. He was the Weeble who wobbled but didn't fall down. I was honored to bear witness to that moment where you know your friend is being rewarded by being surrounded by a core of good people who adore him.
The very next day I had a meeting which required me to be at the top of my game. Not because this friend would judge, but because I had not seen him in so long without the circus of some event being the backdrop and because I admire him so greatly I wanted to be as fully present as possible when I was with him. He is a busy man, a few years older than me and perhaps now, after years of successes others would consider in the top percentage of all successes, perhaps now, with so much behind him he appears to be the happiest of all the decades I have known him.
We talk mostly by email these days since he spends less time in Park City than he once did. We talk about his grandchildren, his days on the beach and work, not in business circles, but in charity ones. He doesn't ever speak in the parlance of "here's what I have done/given." He lights up, he really does, when he talks about working with a child or a family who shifted out of crisis. He is aware there are vast needs on the planet and he is equally aware, with great wealth comes great responsibility.
We spoke of many things, of walruses and kings in a kind of shorthand jabberwocky Lewis Carroll might have admired. I left renewed. And slightly in awe of the generosity of spirit -- as comfortable for him as the easy chair sat where he sat. I know his life did not start that way or always followed that trajectory.
At my home in the guest room I went to retrieve a book and saw the set of Russian nesting dolls, brightly painted, that The Grands at all ages still love to open and put back together. And my two friends, who I have known about the same length of time, who are separated in age by nearly three decades remind me of those dolls. One appears large and solid and it is only with time you learn of all the others, the many, many other smaller versions that are solidly hidden inside. The other is where the doll starts out small, and with time, has broken out of each greater shell he has inhabited until you expect one day an even larger doll appear to encompass his larger, more-evolved self still looking for ways to break out and expand.
I rolled the doll around in my hands for a moment and thought of my two extraordinary friends. They are both the doll being taken apart and willing to be put together in larger ways. Neither of them are simple. They remind me to look for surprises each day including Sunday in the Park....
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the organization that provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.