“… as you drop down into Narnia, the air will thicken. Take great care that it does not confuse your mind…” 1
It was not Narnia, but the air was thick. Smog levels in this former communist-controlled, Eastern European country were reported to be the highest in Europe when we visited not long ago. Phone apps told the inhabitants how bad the air was on any given day so they could pull out the ubiquitous masks they carry with them at all times—and this was before the Corona virus fog rolled in. School was postponed while we were there in order for the children to stay in their homes. The residents looked forward to rain or wind or even snow—anything that would lower the pollution levels to bearable and breathable. We were told that no one appeared to be doing anything about reversing their terrible blight.
If people live with smog long enough, they lose perception—of color, of light, of pure, breathable air, of what’s on the shrouded distant horizon. They can become, like Gollum in The Lord of the Rings, inured to their own deprived selves and airless environment. Glorious, blue sky may be a dream of the past.
A soul-mate friend and I had drifted apart—in physical proximity, to be sure, but not just for that reason. Life had closed in with its busyness. We were both raising children and living in a country not our own. A foreign language and foreign daily rhythms made life somewhat more complicated. As time went on, the air had grown thick between us. Communication, in fact, was lost in a smog of neglect.
From my viewpoint, I could renew the friendship whenever it worked out. We could pick up where we left off, I thought. I didn’t have time—and, seemingly, not enough inclination or energy—to make a phone call.
After months of this, we ran into each other at a gathering. My friend—my soul-mate friend! —approached me somewhat gingerly. “We have to decide,” she said, “whether our relationship is important enough to keep pursuing it.”
At that moment, my fog began to clear away with a new recognition. I grasped that she thought our friendship was not important to me—much less, essential. It certainly looked that way to her. And also in that moment, I knew I wanted the restoration of our earlier relationship. Going home that evening and in the next few days, I realized the skies would not open up and the horizons become visible without effort on both our parts. Smog does not clear by wishing it away. We needed a fresh wind.
We chose a mutual interest—in our case, watercolor—and joined a class together in a town that lay between her small city and my village. We began making weekly evening drives to meet at the class, going out afterward to a local café to talk and talk. The class was a fun and creative outlet—one which my life was seriously lacking. But the real boon was that our relationship grew again into a compelling friendship that we knew we never wanted to lose.
Thick air confuses the mind as the lion Aslan pointed out to Jill, his human visitor to Narnia. In Jill’s case, confused and foggy thinking almost led to disaster and loss because she and her friend Scrubb missed their directional signs to escape and freedom. In my case, the unresolved and stagnated relationship with my friend had clouded the horizons and may have tended toward a permanent fog.
I credit my friend with beginning to clear the air, with “taking care,” as Aslan warned. Sometimes, even the best of friendships need to be taken care of instead of for granted. Once the air began to clear, masks of misunderstanding fell away. Instead of an unnecessary and tragic loss, a precious relationship was saved and renewed. We are now even more physically separated by an ocean. But the fog has blown away. We are thankful.
Just recently, another friend told me of an ongoing painful situation that has become resolved by apology and forgiveness. She felt the relief and freedom that brought. “It’s good to clear the air,” I said.
I have a wish for the country we visited: that someone will intentionally begin “taking care” and attempting to reverse the blight of their smog. I wish for them breathable air and visible horizons.
1 Aslan to Jill, The Silver Chair, by C. S. Lewis