The Joy of Companionship
I loved discovering that the word companion comes from Latin, com meaning with, and panis, bread. My first thought: “Who do I nourish and who nourishes me?” I picture a solid wooden table perhaps outdoors under a lattice of grape vines, loved ones leaning arms on the table, eating, drinking, telling stories, laughing.
I wonder how companionship is faring today. Since the pandemic began, so many of us have been alone, at least much of the time. And when we are together, we are careful, often masked, often distanced. Humans are story-telling beings. We naturally gather in twos and threes and groups. When we are invited by the times into more solitude instead of gathering freely, what happens to companionship?
Certainly if a pandemic had to encircle the Earth, there couldn’t be a better time with the ease of communication—including the one I am using right now. I think of all of you who will read this missive, I have you in my heart and wish you the fulfillment of your heart’s deepest desires. I’m also on a zoom gathering of the London Writer’s Salon while I write this morning. Two hundred other writers keep me company as we each write. In a sense, I am companioned.
Yes, lovely to discover, companion is also a verb. I thought I made that up, but no, Google assures me through the authority of Webster that companion is indeed a verb. To companion someone; to be companioned . . . Just writing this brings a sense of ease, of peaceful rightness. These days I do my morning and evening meditations on zoom with hundreds, perhaps thousands sometimes, of others. I do feel companioned by everyone sitting comfortably wherever we each are, closing our eyes and going within.
I am also companioned by the room I sit in now. Family photos are grouped on the shelves behind me, my small treasures rest in a glass-fronted cabinet across the room; the hibiscus which lives on the front steps in the summer and in this sunny room in the winter has its first bud since the shock of being moved indoors in November. This house is my sanctuary; it is my steadfast companion. There is an old cat here, too, and while she’s not a great conversationalist, she listens well and likes me. The garden is mostly quiet now with just kale and collards in an open bed and some tented lettuce and spinach braving the cold. Knowing it is there and prepared for spring planting adds to the sense that I am not alone, that my life keeps me company. My guitar, my watercolors, my kitchen, my writing—all are here, all companion me sweetly.
I’m a person who loves to be outside. Where I live there are huge oaks and tulip poplars, maples and beeches. There are stone houses build from the wonderful Wissahickon schist, filled with garnets and mica. We have the biggest city park in the country, rivers and creeks, hills and valleys. Walking in the forest the other day, three hawks wheeled overhead. I see foxes and rabbits, deer and once a coyote. Then there is my bike. What a companion she is to me! I ride most days, usually ten or twelve miles, not long, just enough to be brought back to what I loved as a kid. I sing while I ride, songs that arise from the past or ones I make up.
What am I saying? Deeply, honestly, with tenderness and compassion, I companion myself. Perhaps that’s the most important thing I do in life at this time. To be free to love the life that is, this life, the one I’m in the middle of living. Today is the day, the one day, the only day. All the ones before have folded into themselves and are packed away. All the ones to come will have their right time, but it’s not yet. Today, delicious today, is all I have. To live it so I go to sleep at night smiling? Yes, that is how I want to live.
Much of my life is about being available to others. Some people would call that seva or service, and for me, it’s what I do that makes me truly happy. When I take the extra veggies from the garden to the food pantry, I’m happy. When I listen to someone on the phone tell me how it is going for them, I’m happy. When I make an extra cheesecake and give it to my neighbor, I’m happy. Small things, but the joy is big.
As I’ve been musing here, you are each and all in my mind. I would love to hear how you are companioning yourself. Much of what inspires me to celebrate the day is what I hear that others are doing. This morning I got an email with a photo of a tiny landscape one of my friends painted. She said it might be part of a new project. I’ll paint a tiny landscape today. Another friend is photographing everyday; I’m off for a walk this afternoon with my iPhone to see what catches my eye.
This is the way life is now. It may stay that way for some time to come. Why can’t it be as fun as times were before? I’m a traveler by nature, but these days, I’m here. To travel in the inner landscape, to meander the neighborhood, to watch the changes along the familiar forest trails . . . However life is today is perfect. There’s no end of charm in life. I have the chance to live it if I want to. And I do.