In Freendship’s Name

Jack actually gets his Wednesday guest post up on time for a change – –

I’ve been thinking about strong friendships recently.

Max Johanny

Just a few days ago I emailed an old friend in France who I hadn’t been in touch with for a couple of years. I was desperately sad to get a reply from his wife telling me he’d died last November. Max Johanny had helped organize tours in the south of France for my old band ‘Heritage’ in the 1980s and we’d continued to correspond afterwards.

Two members of the band also had a special connection to Max. Mike Ward, who played keyboards, whistle and small pipes, and Davy Lockhart, our longest serving fiddle player. Mike was a teacher of French in a local high school and our expert in all things French. Davy was a lover of France and like Max, a lifelong socialist.

Davy Lockhart

Of all the members of our band Davy and Mike were probably closest to me and yet I very nearly destroyed their friendships. Like most musicians Mike moved in other circles, as did I, so it shouldn’t have bothered me when I stumbled across a communication from him to a festival that we’d twice played asking for a booking for another group. But I allowed myself to be bothered.

Mike Ward

Around the same time and just before ‘Heritage’ were due to record our final album, I was persuaded to give Davy the message that he was no longer part of the band. Davy would be the first to say that his playing was not of the highest quality but he had a lot of ‘soul’. I know that he was deeply hurt and I felt terribly guilty.

Some years after the final album came out Davy went on a sentimental return to France. I joined him there and we traveled around all the old haunts, eventually ending up at St. Jean Pied de Port in the Basque country where Max was the head of the local high school. Sitting at midnight in Max’s beautiful historic house I finally summoned up the courage to tearfully apologize to Davy as we demolished a bottle of Max’s single malt. We remained good friends until his death.

Mike and I never spoke about my irrational reaction to his festival approach, but I’m sure he must have known. Despite that, and when I started my annual small group tours of Scotland, I would always drop in on Mike before the tour started and eventually he visited with Wendy and me for three weeks here in Virginia. He had never been to America and was full of curiosity, delighting in meeting our friends and even playing piano for a service in our Presbyterian Church. We remained good friends until his death.

I suppose the message is that we depend on the grace of our friends, despite our failings. We’re all human after all and we make mistakes. I’ve made a good few and I’ll always be glad that Davy and Mike were able to overlook them.

Freendship makes us aa mair happy
Freendship gies us aa delicht
Freendship consecrates the drappie
Freendship brocht us here the nicht


Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

Holding the Space for Crankiness

Friends used to say “hold the space” and I wasn’t sure where it came from or what it meant. According to the Urban Dictionary, it is the new modern term for being present for someone, listening to them. Listening is an old word. But still a powerful one.

photo by Philip Hiscock

I’m going to suggest here that we hold space for each other to be cranky. In the last wee while, I’ve seen college educated, lovely people–therapists, professors, homemakers, you name it–turn purple with rage over the smallest of unintended slights or inconveniences. In a world full of very real threats (police shootings, pandemics, and a few others) we’re getting mad because someone forgets to put ketchup packets in the bag.

(Apparently there’s a shortage of that, too.)

Crankiness is ugly. It’s childish. We’ve turned into mousetraps baited and waiting for someone else to set us off so we can snap at them. And while the rulebook for how we entered the health crisis hasn’t even been finalized, we are now starting to emerge from it with no plan whatsover. Will a buzzer sound? Do schools start up–wait, are they shut down again? In this brave new era, it would be easy to let “devil take the hindmost” replace the Golden Rule.

Can I affirm that you deserve to be testy? Feel free to hold your breath and turn blue until you get what you want–or, more likely, pass out. But most of us carry Naloxone and smelling salts, so it’s okay. We can’t get you what you want but we can sit by you while you cry bitter tears of baby anger because your balloon went up to the sky without you. We lost a lot of stuff this year. Worse, we lost a lot of people this year. Not a one of us isn’t carrying some form of grief.

Grief doesn’t come in sizes.

Could we take a moment to affirm grief for each other? You get to be sad about you’re sad about. Ignore those trying to spread daisy print gingham over everything, demanding you remember 24/7 to be grateful. Beat your fists against the table. Demand sage instead of onion dressing on your turkey. It doesn’t mean we’re not grateful for the turkey. There have to be some steam valves to let out what happened to us. Substituting one thing for another is valid. And perhaps safer.

Primal screaming was a communal thing last year. Primal screams get more respect than irritability. How could we not be cranky when we’ve spent a year exposing the nerves of our underbellied lives, trying to hold onto things, trying to regain things, trying not to care about things….. Crankiness might even mean we’re healing, like the itch in the scab over the wound. Once lanced, the poison dissipates without harm.

Be petty for five minutes. Your friends will hold space; then you get to do it for them. (Try not to do it in a really public setting, though. Your friends group is smaller than you think. Stick to them.) If we do run across an irritable person out there in social media land, could we just give them a either a kind wave, or a wide berth? Give them some space. They need it.

And once that’s done, we can get back to helping people. And posting memes on Facebook and calligraphy signs on our house walls about the gratitude we were supposed to feel this whole time.

Let it out. Hold space for each other to let it out. That will help it go away.

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Filed under blue funks, Life reflections, Wendy Welch