What is hardest to accept about the passage of time is that the people who once mattered the most to us wind up in parentheses.
What Irving is alluding to is that relationships and friendships can change over time and even recede into the past, leaving us feeling sad, disillusioned or even angry. What we need to remember is that relationships can last for a moment, a season or a lifetime. It is the nature of friendships and our lives.
Friendships or relationships that last a moment are those that come and go relatively quickly, often forged in a time of crisis or need where someone comes alongside us or we them. The patient in the hospital for cancer treatment bonds with another fellow pilgrim. The office mate who is helping us on a project forges a relationship but it is for a specific project and purpose.
Seasons of friendship are longer. When I pastored I forged some strong friendships but they were primarily for that season of life. I moved, another pastor came and although I stay connected to a few on Facebook the friendship, genuine as it was is not the same. Likewise, in my thirty years in the last organization I served I had many seasons of friendship with people I served alongside. But again, except for a few, the relationship changed, as is natural, when I left.
Those of us who are very lucky have friendships that last a lifetime. I call them "friends for life" and they transcend circumstances, location and even differences of opinion or life stage. We treasure these friendships the most because they reflect a long investment in one another's lives.
We often grieve when friendships die or move on. That is the nature of relationships but it does not take away from what we had or how our lives were changed in the time or season that our lives intersected. Most friendships will be a parenthesis in our lives but that does not mean they are not important parentheses. As relationships change we should remember the ways in which that relationship helped us during a period of our lives.
Who we are has been impacted by every healthy relationship we have had over the years whether for a time, season or lifetime. We are changed by our interaction by others and we in turn have had an influence on them. Some relationships do not weather stormy events of life and that is OK. It does not diminish the mutual impact that relationship had on us. In some way we were enriched and enriched others. And ultimately we must hold all relationships with an open hand. We change, times change and relationships change. It is the nature of life.
Too often when a relationship ends we feel diminished or abandoned. We should not. We are no less whole than when the relationship was vibrant. We are simply in a different time or season. It played the role it needed to play and we are now free to pursue other relationships for this season in life. New beginnings come out of endings. In those transitions it is tempting to hurt others in our own hurt but we ought not burn bridges. It is not necessary and it diminishes what once was.
I keep a mental checklist of friendships that once were and how they impacted my own life. I am grateful even when I sometimes experience sadness that what once was is now over. Mostly I am thankful for how others impacted my life and enriched me if even for a time or a season.