What Matters Most is Friendship After All

I leave San Francisco in twenty days, Boston bound. In twenty days my California adventure will come to an end. It wasn’t a chapter in my life that I intended to be temporary. I moved from New York in mid 2008 to create a new life, away from the turmoil and drama of an ugly divorce and unmanageable behavior. A new job in San Francisco facilitated the move.

I have created a new life here in this city on the Bay, the bay being a huge part of the life I’ve created. I have loved my life here, and yet, again, I am moving away to change the music following another painful, if less ugly, divorce. Failed marriages seem to be my catalysts for change: the first one an urgent necessary, the second not: calmer and sadder. It needn’t have been.

What I have come to realize, and appreciate, is that the friendships I have here are more important and more lasting than the two romantic relationships that occurred during these eleven and a half years. My friends will remain my friends forever; the two women are gone from my life. Forever.

Last night my closest friends Josh and his wife Peggy hosted a farewell dinner. My two friends whom I’ve known the longest in San Francisco, Michael and Ray were there. New friends Ross and his husband Greg, and Alan and Zena were there, too. Old friends meeting new friends, all present at the dining table for me.

Adapting the lyrics from Barbra Streisand’s beautiful song by Marilyn and Alan Bergman  called “What Matters Most,” Ross wrote and sang his version to me:

It’s not how many swims shared in the bay

What matters are the friends who swam together

It’s not how far we traveled on our way

But what we found to say

It’s not the springs we’ve seen

But all the shades of green.

 

It’s not how far apart our homes may be

What matters is how sweet the years together

It’s not how many summer times we had to give to fall

The laughter and the smiles we gratefully recall

What matters most is friendship after all.

 

I’m not ashamed to say it made me cry.

What matters most is friendship after all.

She can’t take that away from me. She can upend my life, but she can’t take away friendship. My friendships.

Josh, Michael, Ray, these three men in my life—each so different from one another and each occupying such large swathes of geography in my heart. I love these men in a way that romantic love can’t equate. My love for them is like the foundation of a building, on top of which romance builds a house. The house blew down in a storm—it was made of straw– but the foundation remains rock solid and secure.

The irony, if irony is what it is, is that my friendship, my best friendship friendship, with Josh came about because she was friends with him; he swam with her for years before meeting me. She introduced us and asked Josh to take me on my first South End bay swim. We swam out of the Cove and behind the Balclutha. Of the many things for which I’m grateful that she gave me—there are many—my friendship with Josh touches most deeply.

Version 4

It’s rare when later in life you meet a new friend, another man, who comes to occupy so important a place in your life, as though friends since birth. Josh was the first person I called after she told me she no longer loved me and wanted to end our marriage, that clear cold day in February when I biked to the center of the Golden Gate Bridge and stared down at the dark water for an hour, realizing that my life could be renewed in ways I couldn’t yet imagine. He and Peggy came immediately, and have been there for and with me every single day.

She can’t take that away, what she gave to me she can’t take away from me. Only herself.

Part of the sadness that pervades the dissolution of our marriage and the resulting disassociation is that I can’t share my gratitude for what she gave me. She closed that door. She won’t speak to me, pretends not to see me when I’m a few feet away.

She broke my heart, yet provided the tools for its mending. My friends, and the life I created being with her.

Also at dinner last night Peggy, too, composed and sang a song, to the melody of Silver Bells. Many stanzas, with these sweet refrains:

Ni-l-and…Mortimer

It’s almost time for departing

Off you go, to the snow

Soon it will be sub-zero!

 

Niland…Mortimer

It’s almost time that you’re heading

To the east, take your fleece

You’ll be a Bostonian!

 

Niland…Mortimer

Soon you’ll betaking your leaving

The Club will care, you’re not there

You will be missed everywhere!

 

Niland…Mortimer

It’s almost time for departing

Soon you’ll go, to our woe

Maybe you’ll find a new beau!

 

Niland…Mortimer

Do stay in touch with your old friends

We implore, so therefore

You must comeback evermore!

Niland…Mortimer

We wish you sweet adventures

Paint more art, mend your heart

Swim in Boston Harbor!

 

Eyes again filled with tears, and smiles.

 Michael wrote, “I have always liked the Michael I saw through your eyes.”  Michael was my very first friend I made in San Francisco, beginning before I even moved here. I learned the city through his generosity of time and friendship. His six years at Tassajara and subsequent life commitment to the San Francisco Zen Center have been a beacon of integrity, hope, and a model for life, one I could never achieve but so admire. The Michael I saw, and see today, is a man for all seasons, all ages–wise, funny, generous, kind, intelligent, with a voice I could listen to forever. I hope I do.

And Ray, dear Ray, for whom 2019 has been a year of health emergencies and hardship, what can I say. I spent my first California Thanksgiving with Ray, scooped up when he hardly knew me to not be alone on this first holiday in a new city. Michael and Ray have seen me through both romantic break-ups, have been there even when the “there” was histrionic and overwrought. They never judged. Ray knows me I suspect better than I know myself. And smiles.

They will be there long after. She can’t take them away from me.

My friends live all over the world: Janine in Australia, Sean in Germany, Alan in France, John in Chicago, Richard in New York.

Now three in San Francisco.

They will all be with me long after this. They come with me to Boston, to what life will bring, to what new future that doesn’t yet exist.

May I honor them and keep their love and respect.

What matters most is friendship after all.

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It’s not how long we held each other’s hand
What matters is how well we loved each other
It’s not how far we traveled on our way
Of what we found to say
It’s not the spring you see, but all the shades of green
It’s not how long I held you in my arms
What matters is how sweet the years together
It’s not how many summer times we had to give to fall
The early morning smiles we tearfully recall
What matters most is that we loved at all.
It’s not how many summer times we had to give to fall
The early morning smiles we tearfully recall
What matters most is that we loved at all.
What matters most is that we loved at all.

 

 

 

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