Within hours of meeting my companion years ago, he had told me about his friend Max.
He had told me about the important chunk of life they had shared together, he had told me stories, painted several vignettes of two younger men living free and a bit wild. One late night, he recounted to me the day Max took off on his sailboat for an open ended adventure around the world, and how he had stood on the bluff overlooking the ocean, watching the boat get smaller - and wept.
Time passed, and I think they saw each other once since that day. That was 21 years ago.
As life will have it, we found out recently, that Max had settled a few miles from the village where we were to spend some time, here in Italy.
A few clicks of the laptop put the two of them in touch, and it was agreed that they would reunite once we got here.
Reunions of the heart are exhilirating and scary. They are are part meeting the other, and part meeting ourselves again. Will we recognize who we find?
It took a few days for my partner to be ready to reach out, and once the day was set, I could see a blend of excitement and fear making its way. At one point, I think I sensed a bit of protecting, too. Cherished memories are crucial and tender, and allowing them to move from the nest of our deeper private crevices onto the light of Today requires courage.
A few texts were exchanged along with an invitation to spend the day together and be treated to a tour of Livorno. To which I heard a quiet: what I really want to see is him, not so much the city.
Yesterday was the day, and at 10 am, a car pulled into our driveway. My partner had been up since the crack of dawn, gone on a solo hike into the hills, and we had been pretty quiet. The air was crisp, the sky shiny blue, and a sweet vulnerable energy was dancing around.
The driver door opened and the two men instantly beamed at each other before entangling their arms, shoulders and hearts for a good while. Then Max deposited a kiss on his friend’s cheek, and off we went. I could tell quickly that the woman sharing the back seat with me was someone very special.
The 40-minute drive to the city was filled with two timeline recounting of their decades spent apart. The wheres, the whens and the whos were passed back and forth, with a peppering of clarifying questions. I listened and took it all in. The passions, the learning, the giving ups, the getting up again, the hopes, the humanness. Really, they were carefully saying: this is me. Show me you.
It was a rich ritual and I felt privileged to be witness to it.
As we arrived into the city, Max drove us by his workplace and pointed to us the building where he shows up on week mornings. The place of which he says that “he does not love the work, but has learned to make it a spiritual practice.”
And then, he took us to a small park, and stopped the car in front of a gathering of these beautiful, tall Italian trees we have been admiring daily. Jumping out of the door, he said: Now, I demonstrate! We all got out and watched him open the hatchback and extract a blanket. His companion laughed and shook her head as he told us to follow him.
Arrived at the foot of a particular tree, he laid the blanket down right next to the trunk and explained: this is where we come to have a picnic every work day. Mina brings lunch, and we eat right here, under the tree. Mina laughed and confirmed that yes, this did happen every day (this blew my mind a little bit, as it spoke of something I may not have in me, but wish I did) Then, he said: but first, I do this. And within a millisecond he had his back on the ground, his legs flat up the tree trunk, and enough room on the blanket for his buddy to join him. Which he did with glee.
These two men stayed there, looking up at the tree, right next to each other. I could not tell you how long it lasted, but I can tell you that when they got up, something had happened. Something which Max summarized by saying “Yup. You’re still my brother.”
And that was that.
The rest of the day was spent in a blissful cloud of walking, swimming, eating, singing and talking. None of us wanted the day to end. A key had turned in a lock, and the rest of life could now be enjoyed from that new place. Or maybe that old place.
We did get a tour of the city, and Livorno is indeed beautiful.
But more than anything, Max had taken his friend to his tree.
And no site, no gelato and no tour would ever match that.
Taking the ones we love to our trees. Allowing them to guide us to theirs. And then staying there for as long as it takes for our hearts to line up.
Sharing the small sacred places, moments, sights and tastes of our lives with each other. Away from the facts, and away from the shiny spots. Being vulnerable enough to allow this quiet intimacy.
Being brave enough to say: this is me. Please show me you.