748: gather them & give them back to me.

748: gather them & give them back to me.

748: gather them & give them back to me.


I’m Shira Erlichman and this is The Slowdown.

In the depths of a ravenous depression I received a hand-knit scarf in the mail. It was composed of at least ten blues––navies, ceruleans, teals. A little note was included from a faraway friend, “Blues, for all your blues.”

Holding those blues, I felt philia: a love premised on intimate, authentic friendship. Our culture is obsessed with eros, the romantic, passionate, lustful love. The stuff of rom-coms. But the Ancient Greeks offered us six other distinct words describing different kinds of love. Philia can be applied to a romantic partner, or equally, to a platonic best friend.

Which leads me, of course, to our great modern writer of love: Toni Morrison. In Beloved she writes, “She is a friend of my mind. She gather me, man. The pieces I am, she gather them and give them back to me in all the right order.” Philia is a befriending love, one that rescues a scattered self and returns it in a dignifying constellation.

That same month as the scarf-in-the-mail, my friend Allegra would often drop by my home with a single mochi. Her hand extended through the crack in my front door, she’d wave the tiny green treat and shout, “Here!” before disappearing into the night. On another evening she showed me how to build a huge paper snowflake. She was patient with my slow brain, my slow hands. Together, we hung it over my bed where it would continue to spin in circles long after my depression had lifted.

I want more words for love, because I love my friends in a real way. A way that deserves its own philia-comedy, or “phil-com.” I’ve known my friend Alessandra since I was six––that’s 32 years of philia. We’ve had a thousand sleepovers. Once, visiting her in New York, we fell asleep entwined in the summer heat. I woke at midnight to her gently rubbing my back. She’d been comforting me, even as I slept, even as I didn’t know it. She gather me, man.

When I canceled plans with my cousin Eden because of a tough week, they texted back, “Whatever the grammar of your shape, it is sacred geometry to me… [emoji heart].” Theirs is a love that wants only wholeness for the other. Integrity, shape.

Today’s poem is a love poem. I was lucky enough to hear the poet, Renia White, read it in person. Before she read, she thanked an old friend at the back of the crowd who had made the long trip to be there, and dedicated the poem to them.

gather them & give them back to me.
by Renia White

(after Toni Morrison) 

I don’t have the wherewithal to die today,
not with you here.   (thank you for that)
you say things could be simple, and sometimes
they are.   it’s true, we only need what we need
in order to have all we need.   nothing more,
but love, which is a texture you say you don’t 
understand.   but look at this bread in my mouth
and your hand in mine although we barely touch
because how outlandish—to feel even further?  beyond
the sure blessing?    so your hand isn’t in mine, but I feel
it there—when I am asleep, awake, inside my mind room.
I touch everything I walk by or into.        but, you          here?
and us with hands in case we need them?           I think this is it,
but if you want to make it more complicated, I agree.

"gather them & give them back to me." by Renia White from CASUAL CONVERSATION copyright © 2022 Renia White. Used by permission of BOA Editions.