When we challenged the pastors in the room, humor, experience and -- for him at least -- academics were our tools. But we excelled because of our guts. We just knew -- when to interrupt the other with just the right story, what experience should follow a particular anecdote, etc. We were best friends and we were great teachers.
Then life happened.
I divorced my husband. He got a job that demanded his full attention. The freelance gigs we'd partnered on dried up.
And he erased me.
We had not had an affair. We'd been incredibly intentional about defining boundaries for the on-the-road lifestyle our workshops demanded. We had simply been friends with a lot in common.
So I couldn't comprehend how suddenly we went from on to off.
I made up a lot of possibilities. I had to. He wasn't around to add to or take away from storylines. I tried phone calls. I sat across the table once and hinted I was having a problem with his behavior. I finally broke down in tears when we were two years into the absence. He'd dropped by my office while in the building and tried a caring tone when he asked, "How are you? Really."
I didn't answer. I couldn't. Later I sent an email. I spelled it out. He never responded. I learned later that he'd definitely received it but had simply avoided any form of an answer.
Recently, I've been hanging out with his students. They obviously respect him. They tell me he even quotes me. Every time they mentor his name I flinch . . . . They notice.
Then it hit me. We teach authenticity, transparency, even conflict management. The time had come to practice what we teach.
I called him and made a lunch date. He agreed. I told him the subject matter and that's when I learned he'd ignored the email. I tried hard to breathe.
We met. I started.
"I've been practicing my 'I feel' statements," I began.
And the list followed -- abandoned, lied to, invisible.
He listened and replied, "What you need to hear above everything else I'll say is this. I've been a shitty friend, the shittest. And I'm sorry."
I agreed. Then I forgave and then I admitted that that was all I'd come for.
He offered reasons which were among the scenarios I'd already conjured up. He apologized again. He asked me about my family. For a moment, I contemplated not asking about his because I wasn't there to pick up our relationship where we'd left off. But I knew that grown ups need not play such games. I asked.
We parted as old friends who would occasionally connect as professionals. That was enough for me.
I left smiling because acting like a grown up is sometimes better than being one.