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Everything’s The Best: The Space Between

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Sometimes things don’t always go the way we planned.

Newcastle United v Liverpool - Premier League
“You wouldn’t guess, but leaning into thin air at the same time takes immense coordination.” Excerpt from ‘Jurgy and Zelkjo: Friends 4Ever and Tips On How You Can Be Friends 4Ever Too.’ Available on Bantam House Press.
Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

Over the weekend, one of my long-time friends flew in from New York City. We were hoping to get together, but with our baby, no ready sitters, and a work project we’d scheduled on Saturday, all options to hangout dried up. I let my buddy know and that was that. I didn’t know why he’d flown into town in the first place, though, and it seems that it was because a mutual friend of ours was getting married. Scrolling through the photos of them and a few other friends from earlier times, I got hit with a streak of nostalgia: love at the sight of these people I root for living their dreams; a sting that we aren’t what we once were.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, as I stare down the barrel of my impending 35th birthday: how we come together as people, form intense bonds, and how we sometimes let those bonds fray or loosen or come undone. 35 years, I’ve come to find, is enough time to collect a fair share of friendships that are in varying stages of change and while I wasn’t started on this track by feeling the contours of the rifts between me and these specific friends, it certainly drove me deeper into it. And that’s what I’ve been meditating on this morning as I’ve come into an incredibly busy and tumultuous morning of Liverpool Football Club-related news headlined by the shake-up of a relationship I had no idea might be shifting: that between manager Jurgen Klopp and his long-time assistant Zeljko Buvac.

I’m no sooth-sayer and I’ve been trying (in varying degrees of success) to not be much of a gossip, so I’ll side-step the speculation on their relationship. Instead, I’ve spent much of this morning reflecting on the relationships I’ve navigated and how they’ve ebbed over time. Sometimes, the relationship is centered on shared vision or goals and when those things change, then the relationship goes, too. I think of people I’ve worked with across four counties and the stories we’ve shared and the distance we now keep.

Sometimes, as in the case of my friends, its a uniquely shared experience; we came from a very small high-school that stirred intense pressure on young minds. It was rewarding in that I was surrounded by people who looked like me and knew the language of my neighborhoods and wouldn’t blanche at the idea of coming to my house to work on a project. But it was also a bit like surviving a traumatic experience our worth was measured by outsized expectations and hinged on performance. All at a time when most people struggle with the ideas of internal value. When that time together ended and we walked away, I found myself longing for people in my new environs that might understand me and often found myself calling on my old friends. But even those bonds loosen. We shift. We adapt. We change.

Raphael Honigstein noted in a tweet that Klopp and Buvac have had blow-ups before. I don't think any friendship can survive for as long as theirs has without some record of disagreement or discord. Maybe they’ll find a way back through the wilderness. Maybe the space between them both will be permanent. Still, there’s no denying that they’ve both been changed for the better being in each other’s company.

And maybe that’s the source of the tenderness: that memory reminds us often of the good times and, try as we might, we cannot make our way back to that time again. That we can only stand apart and view it — linger in its warm glow but never live it again.

The Reds play their most important match of the season on Wednesday and I’ve no reason to believe they won’t be prepared. Whatever the outcome, I’m sure they’ll come in feeling ready and confident. But this time, they may line up and feel the absence of Zeljko. Like the hollow indentation on the passenger seat. Or the space in a conversation their voice would fill. Or when one of your Uber-talented players scores a worldie and you turn to hug the specter of the person no longer there.