“And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.”
― Haruki Murakami
Earlier this week I was trying to download an app to my iPhone and I received the dreaded message that my phone was out of storage. It is my practice to keep as much data off my phone as possible by downloading and deleting photos and removing unnecessary emails and apps fairly regularly. However, when I saw the message, it really was no mystery to me what was clogging up my system. I knew what was incapacitating my phone. And I knew it was time to free up some space.
Metaphorically speaking, I had a blockage in my heart. I had been hanging on to text messages from my friend. From my best friend. There were quite a few. In fact, a whole lot.
19,901 to be exact.
Over 790 days.
And, if you’re doing the math, that is approximately 25 texts per day. I had given my teenage son a run for his money by this magnitude of texting and that reflected only the past two years of our relationship. Knowing that the volume was mounting, I had many moments over those 790 days where I was tempted to just swipe my finger across the most recent text and watch them all disappear. Sometimes because I felt foolish for holding on to them. Sometimes because I was angry when my feelings had been hurt about something. Sometimes because I simply wanted to free up some space – both on my phone and in my head. But, each time the urge came over me, I resisted. I feared that deleting these messages would negate so much of our relationship. The messages, which spanned an array of time in our lives and also reflected a broad range of emotions and experiences, felt like the connective tissue that affirmed the reality of my relationship. You see, my friend and I have a unique, challenging and, mostly, extraordinary relationship. We live 1100 miles apart so seeing each other regularly is rarely possible. We have to maintain our connection while operating at a distance. We also own a company together and have to navigate the associated challenges of not always seeing eye-to-eye, power struggles, disagreements, hurt feelings and trying to balance the personal and professional. Plus, we have the added bonus of having a third partner who needs to manage through all of our muck while introducing his own. Overall, it is complicated. Ironically, the text messages (which only represent a smaller portion of the time we have been friends) chronicle our relationship from the time we started our company. And, for some reason, that seems symbolic to me. It does not seem coincidental that I started saving them right around the time we began our adventures in this business. It seems so incredibly appropriate that I would have, as he would say, “memorialized” this journey through the text exchanges that have been a defining element of our relationship. Like love letters, they embody the highs and lows, the depths of our story. And I have simply not been ready to let that go.
I found myself at a crossroads that day earlier this week. I looked at the congestion caused by the text messages and recognized that I had to make a choice. I was not prepared to go out and invest in a phone with a bigger capacity for memory and I was not prepared to delete my history. I paused for a bit to think about my conundrum. Why couldn’t I let them go? Why did I need to keep them? Was it simply to have a record of this period of time? Or, was it something more. It did not take a lot of digging to locate my truth.
The text messages are a lifeline of sorts for me. My fear is born in the notion that deleting them might annihilate the relationship. In reality, I never look back and read them. It’s not like I spend lazy afternoons reminiscing over the laughter and tears, the adoration and the anger. But I just love knowing that they are right there, should I need them. I appreciate the concretization of a relationship that, otherwise, seems distant and whose image slowly evaporates in my mind when we go for long stretches without seeing each other or having time to talk. These words provide evidence of a component of my life that has always seemed so far out of reach yet incredibly pervasive and magnificent. Because our relationship has been put to the test over the past year with the challenges of building the business while trying to maintain the integrity of our personal relationship, the texts hold even more weight to me. They are a reminder of how deeply committed we have been to preserving our strong bond even as we struggled to set boundaries and define new rules of engagement. There are many texts that begin with “Hey friend” indicating that we were switching into personal mode. I have worried, over the course of the past year, that we would become a statistic reinforcing the notion that you should never go into business with friends or family. Despite the thousands (literally, thousands!) of messages declaring our love and adoration for one another, it appeared that we might not be able to survive the surging tide that was destined to wash away all the foundations we had built in our special relationship. Our symbiosis that people marveled at, wondering if we did, indeed, share one brain, felt, to me, like it was dividing. Where we once exchanged dozens of texts daily, it had become the new normal to go weeks without talking and even longer without texting anything but banal business matters like “what number should I call you on?” or “did you get a chance to look at that email I sent?” Long gone were the morning greetings, checking to see how things were going. It seemed like months has passed since I had sent a silly photo or had engaged him in my mayhem after having too much to drink with my friends. It no longer felt necessary to include him in my activities in order to bridge the divide that regularly kept us apart. My efforts to keep him close at hand in replacement for the wishful impromptu coffees or drinks that never were a part of our lives diminished and I began to envision a new world without him playing a central role. It felt off and disorienting but I pushed through because it seemed like a foregone conclusion.
I have endured dismantled relationships throughout my life, including those with my closest family members. And, I know how to manage the aftermath of the break. In this case, however, I did not have the luxury of stepping away because he was still my business partner and continued to be a regular part of my life. And, this is perhaps the most difficult aspect of it all and the part for which I am most grateful. I have had to employ a new set of skills to navigate, ensuring that my personal feelings and emotions did not interfere with the need to work together productively. And, while I have not managed this without challenges, I have evolved to a place where I can meaningfully compartmentalize. And, thankfully, where I would have normally bailed out, I have had to find a way to hang on and weather the storm.
The process of doing this has liberated me. I have had no choice but to change my behavior and my thinking. In fact, I have had to stop thinking and just move forward, trusting that the universe would guide me. I went from stubbornly trying to squeeze myself into an outfit that no longer fit to standing naked while I searched for a more appropriate new wardrobe.
So, this week when I confronted the decision that I could no longer put off, realizing that the technology Gods had forced my hand, I decided to opt for Plan B. Just as I managed my feelings and behavior, I could have a compromise where my phone would be liberated and my memories would be preserved. I scoured the web, found a tool and got to the task of downloading the 19,901 messages and free up some space on my phone. And, in doing so, the real reason of why I saved them revealed itself to me.
Well, actually, I already knew this but my thinking was confirmed.
After I downloaded the messages, I started scrolling through the 1800-page PDF document housing the last two years of my relationship with my friend. I steered clear of the emotionally charged drama and focused on the sweetest and most poignant exchanges. As I read them, I had a surreal experience. I was transported back, remembering, in vivid color, the experiences surrounding the messages, physically feeling the emotional intensity. And, at times, it felt like I was watching a movie with two characters that were vaguely familiar. My friend and I often joke that we have invested so much time and energy into our relationship and that it has been so intense and so powerful that it feels like dog years. And, as I read the texts, I suddenly felt like those two chronicled years were more like 14. Some of the memories seemed like a lifetime ago. So much had changed.
And then, to my surprise, I wept. Like a flash flood, the tears burst from my eyes and I held my head in my hands just letting the emotions wash over me. I wasn’t sure what I was feeling – sadness and loss or simply nostalgia. And, naturally, this was a clear indication that the exercise of doing this was important and necessary.
As I sat at my desk, unburdening my phone of the excess baggage and, simultaneously, breaking down from the emotions at play, I did what felt absolutely natural – I shared it all with my friend. And, of course, I sent him a text. I candidly, summoning up all the vulnerability I could muster, shared my experience. I told him about the messages (knowing full well that he had long ago deleted his collection and secretly thinking that he did so with the confidence that I had saved them for both of us) and conveyed my reaction to seeing them and sorting through them. He fell right in step with me and knew, without me having to explain, how powerful this was. He might have even felt some of the emotion himself. He wouldn’t reveal that me but that is no surprise as he is far more private than I am and processes his feelings far differently than I do. The whole exchange felt appropriate and familiar but disjointed from our current state and I simply stepped away to let it marinate. This would sort itself out. It didn’t require any intervention from me.
This week, after two long months of not seeing my friend, we were drawn together for work. We have been settling into this undeclared new state of being so seeing him was different. He looked different – thinner, tanner, well-rested. And, I had to wonder if he was still the same friend I loved and cherished or if we had really shifted into a completely new gear. Would he still throw his head back and let out his loud guffaw so earnestly and brilliantly when I did something so absurdly stupid that seemed so genuinely hilarious to him? Would he still hug me and give me the patented arm squeeze that informed me that all was ok in a gesture to let me know that he loved me in a way that only he and I could understand? Would I look at him from across the room and, in a simple glance, give him a message as long as the Gettysburg Address and get a wink or a smirk in return, assuring me that he got it and was in sync with me? Would we be us? Two friends who stumbled upon each other one late winter morning in a meeting in NYC. On that day, we met and chatted like old friends, me magnetically drawn to him and him working his charm. Unbeknownst to me, I was also working my charm which actually drew him to me in ways that even surprised him. Was that uncanny connection, that bond that neither of could understand or describe all that well, still there or had the storm weathered us so badly that the energy that so tangibly coursed through us when were together, fizzled out and we were now just two colleagues on a job, respectfully and cordially working together?
I had no answers and, while I would normally seek them out, I simply waited to see what transpired. And, on the second day, with so many different thoughts and feelings in my mind, I found myself sitting next to my colleague and looked over at him and saw my friend. My mind was suddenly blank and my heart was open. It didn’t matter how much we had struggled and how many hurtful things we had said or done to one another in the course of our journey to find our way. Nothing was in focus except that my friend was sitting next me and, rather than wait for him to give me a sign, I gave him one, assuring him that we may have drifted off in the ocean current but we were only an arm’s length away and we simply just needed to reach out and extend a hand.
I have tucked away the document with the text messages and joked with my friend that one day I will probably write a book telling the story of this special friendship. The story is nowhere near over and I have no idea what the next chapter looks like. What I do know is this: when you are brave enough to stand up through the wind and rain and weather the storm, you will emerge stronger and bolder. I never let go but I also consciously surrendered, allowing the winds to pull me wherever I needed to go. And, because the Wizard of Oz is always my metaphor for life, I recognize that, like Dorothy, who got tossed around in the twister, I have always had the power to click my heels and find my way home and that is where I am headed, continuing to memorialize my journey, every step of the way.