I am not good at multi-tasking. I find it hard to juggle the details of several tasks in a way that allows me to complete any of the tasks well. So, I tend to complete things serially. I will make a list, tackle the first item on the list until it is done, then move on to the next entry. In this way I get things done and generally I get them done well. But, if ever I find myself in a spot where I must complete several complicated tasks simultaneously, I get stressed out, steps get forgotten or mixed-up, and none of the tasks comes out as well as it could have if it was the only thing I had to do.
I watch Erica prepare appetizers, main courses, and dessert whenever we have people over for dinner and I am amazed. Her brain sorts, evaluates, plans, and acts in an efficient way that allows her to get everything done and done well, at just the right moment. If she asks me to help out by making a sauce for the veggies and grilling the meat at the same time, I freak out.
I can’t prove it, but I think whatever deficit of mine it is that leaves me unable to focus on more than one thing at a time is also responsible for my inability to keep in touch in any meaningful way with old friends. I can focus on just one or two relationships in my life at any given time. This makes those one or two relationships rich and meaningful, but it also puts a LOT of pressure on them. At the same time other relationships are starved of the one ingredient needed to keep them strong and vibrant—attention.
This whole dynamic is something I am just coming to terms with in myself, even though I have been aware of it for years. A few months ago I decided I needed to take some of the pressure off of my relationship with my wife and daughter by reconnecting with an old friend or two. Right away I thought of my closest friend from my Peace Corps days in Yemen twenty years ago. Her name is Amy and she and I have been in touch only sporadically since we returned to life in America in 1989. My loss of closeness with Amy has always been a big regret for me.
Well, this week Amy and her husband and daughter were on the East Coast to visit family and we had the chance to spend the day together at the Mystic Aquarium in Mystic, CT. It was the first time we had seen each other in ten years. I was excited and nervous before we got to the aquarium but quickly realized that I didn’t need to be.
Many changes have happened to Amy and to me since we met on the rooftop of a courtyard house in the Al’G’aa section of Sana’a and spent six hours talking. We have each gotten married, had a child, gotten a graduate degree and a teaching certificate, moved several times, and hit forty.
It was a relief to feel right away that none of the changes that have happened in either of us have changed the nature of our deep connection to each other. We picked up our friendship right where it left off when we used to see each other all the time. The ease and comfort of a good conversation with an old friend is a gift that I almost forgot the value of. Getting back in touch with Amy and then seeing her again feel like a gift I have given myself simply by picking up the phone and, (as Michelle Shocked once put it), walking across that burning bridge.
Amy now lives in California and I live in Connecticut, but you can bet I will not let ten more years go by before we get together again.