My best friend, Anna James, likes to start the New Year by choosing a word that represents what she wants to cultivate in her life. Among those she’s chosen in the past are “creativity” and “habits.”
She and I were texting a week or two back when she told me she’d chosen her word for 2021: grit.
I was instantly envious of her word, which sounds so tough and determined (plus serves up a side of nostalgia for the Sell Grit! advertisements in my childhood comics). There’s a tenacity to grit I couldn’t help but admire, and I was immediately scrambling to find the perfect word of my own.
This year has been so strange that the only words that would surface were far too obvious: Survival. Perseverance. Patience.
Determined to find a focus for 2021, I continued batting around words. One surfaced several times: friends. I shared it with Anna.
“That’s a great word,” Anna said, ever the encourager. She insisted it shouldn’t be too difficult.
Even though I’ve always been quiet and shy, I generally never struggled with making friends. At least, not until I moved to Atlanta to be with Don.
My first job in the city was a long-term contract position with an architectural firm staffed largely with those straight from college. I made a few friends at the lunch buddy level, but no real connections. Since then, I’ve worked for a large recruiting firm whose staff is, once again, very young. Before Atlanta, I had friends both far younger and much older than me, yet I seem unable to find common ground to build on here.
“I think it’s the nature of the work most of the people there do,” my daughter said as she and I were driving to Charlotte and I brought up the subject. “Maybe the people drawn to recruiting are just too different. They’re money-motivated extroverts. You aren’t.”
She reminded me how she initially had trouble finding “her people” in Atlanta, until she accepted a position at a pet food store. Every one of the store’s workers had been attracted to the job because they wanted to be around dogs and dog-people. They were like-minded, with similar priorities. Driven more by their love for animals than their need for ladder climbing or a high income. It made sense that they all became such close friends, both at work and outside.
This reminded me of something I read about years ago. The actor Charlton Heston was talking about how, when they were filming the original “Planet of the Apes” in the late 1960s, there was a bizarre segregation among the actors during lunch. Those who were made up as chimpanzees would eat with the other chimpanzees; the gorillas with the other gorillas; orangutans with orangutans. The human actors would go off and eat by themselves. They were all still ordinary humans under their makeup and masks, yet without conscious thought about what they were doing or why, they sought out others who were like them.
Before COVID-19 changed the world, I went to lunch with a group of women who were all strangers to each other. We went around the table introducing ourselves. The first to speak mentioned she and her husband had recently bought a little beach house. The next talked of their cabin in the mountains. Another, their place on the lake. I was formulating how to phrase something about having adorable twin pallets under the interstate bridge when I realized it might be better to excuse myself altogether.
I was the opossum attempting to dine in the midst of gazelles.
People who are outgoing seek the company of other extroverts. Thoroughbreds want to run with other thoroughbreds.
People who love seclusion, mountains and quiet generally don’t move to the city, and they probably shouldn’t expect to find like-minded friends there if they do.
Which I’ve done.
But I’m dogged. Determined. And dad-gummit, I’ve got grit. If I really do plan to find my people next year, I guess I need to look away from the office and more toward the things that define me.
Writing. Refinishing. Rockets. Ray guns.