It’s been a couple of months since I spent the weekend at Jan’s new retirement home in the beautiful mountainous region of Asheville, N.C. Before that it had been maybe six years since our last visit, that time at my house in East Tennessee when she and her husband were passing through the area. Other than that — a couple of periodic visits back to Pittsburgh constituted our time together since the years we were colleagues in that city. And no matter where or how infrequently we visit, our conversations pick up as though it’s been just a few days since we last spoke.
My friendship with Marilyn is just like that. We’ve been friends since we were kids, growing up just a few houses apart in the neighborhood where we both spent our childhoods. We’re as close today as then, though we both went to different colleges, have been through different life experiences and lived in different states since those days. Each time I see her we start talking and don’t stop until it’s time to leave. Our bond is as strong as ever and the friendship has grown with the years.
Marianne, my college room-mate, is another life-long friend. We pick up where we left off and continue from there, each updating the other on the trials and tribulations in our respective lives. The two weeks I spent at her home last summer were just like the old days, except she went to work each morning and I played in my old stomping grounds of Pittsburgh, visiting other friends and former colleagues accrued during the 13 years living there.
It’s amazing the different roles friends play in our lives. These days I continue to stay in touch with life-longers while also enjoying my theater friends, bicycling friends, neighborhood friends, work friends, spiritual friends and now email, Facebook and blogging friends. And of course, my husband, who’s probably my best friend, and my sisters who’ve become close friends over the years. All of them touch different parts of my essence, exercising various intellectual and emotional muscles within.
A recent piece in the New York Times by Alex Williams challenges our ability to make friends after a “certain age” when a busy life tends to preclude the time necessary for real connections to be established. He identifies the conditions that sociologists find important in forging friendships to be proximity, repeated and unplanned interactions, and a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other.” Perhaps that’s true; friendship does seem to rely on shared experiences of some kind, though proximity can now be established through the miracle of digital interaction too. I’ve made new Facebook and blogging friends whom I’ve never even met in person. And bonds with former work friends have grown stronger on Facebook than they were during our work days together.
What we all seem to crave is connection. For me, friendship is about authenticity. When we are free to be ourselves with someone else and that someone else still wants to maintain connection, a friendship can be born.
A former hospice patient, for whom I was a companion during the end stages of his life, was described as one who never met a stranger. What a poignant description of a person who loved to love. And he was well-loved in return.
Reach out and a new friend can be made.
What do you say about friendship?