150 Is A Random Number



My friend lives in Texas now, not far from that place with the silos. She tells stories with her paintings while I paint pictures with my stories. She is a mother and a grandmother. She has lived in Africa and has survived breast cancer. I am, I have done none of those things. Still, we are friends of the deepest kind: we tell each other scary things, embarrassing things, painful things and we know that in the telling the fear, the embarrassment, the pain is lessened. Maybe just a little, but enough that matters.


Our nearly 57-year-old friendship began in Brownies. (I am frequently reminded that so many good things in my life can be attributed to Girl Scouts.) We didn't go to the same elementary school or the same church. Our parents didn't know each other. There was little in that world of three-fingered promises and sit-upons that would have predicted the longevity of our relationship.


And, yet, here we are. Held together not just by memories, though they are many and strong, but by something else.


I wish I knew what to call it.


I read something the other day about the sociological premise that a human being cannot really know more than 150 people. That is the number, arbitrary it seems to me, that is supposed to define a personal community.


I am not a social scientist – though I took enough college hours in psychology, sociology, and political science to qualify for membership in the social science honor society (just another indication that being educated in something does not make you one). I am not a social scientist, but I know enough to respectfully disagree with the 150.


I think it might make better sense to say that a person can know – really know and care about – no more than 150 people within a particular community. And I have many communities.


There is my large and widespread family. There is the church in which I was raised and the church of which I am now a member. There is my Wesleyan community and my law school community. There is the community formed those three summers I worked in Dahlonega for the Governor’s Honors Program and the one formed those eight summers at church camp. There is the community formed around practicing law for 38 years and that strange, difficult to describe community that has been called framily – people to whom I am bound by neither blood nor law, but who treat me as though I am. And there is that community of which my Texas friend is a member – childhood friends.


As happens so often, in the writing of the words I think I have figured out what to call it, that thing that holds me to my childhood friend in Texas, my church camp friend in Indiana, my college suitemate in Spain. It is recognition.


At some point in our relationships we looked at each other and saw ourselves. And then we held on for dear life.


It would break my heart to think that could happen only 150 times. That being moved by the death of someone else’s parent, being excited for the graduation of someone else’s child, being angered by someone else’s betrayal would be limited to fewer people than serve in the House of Representatives.


Friends may be the one thing about which I am greedy. And, in this case, greed is good.


Copyright 2021

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