Occasionally a person turns up in our life and there is a spark or a connection that just can’t be ignored. Friendships are made out of a mutual desire to connect and to belong. And just as life carries us through its ups and downs, friendships also ripple and swell and rise and fall with the undulations of life.
Some of my friends have been in my life for over 60 years. Some even longer because their parents and mine were friends before we were even born. Some entered my life by chance and some I sort out because I was drawn to them as soon as I met them. Some friends became friends because someone introduced us and then some surprised me by stepping up when other friends didn’t.
Soon it will be my 50th school reunion and many with whom I shared my school years I have not laid eyes on for 20, 30 40 years. There are, however those who have remained friends for decades and who I consider some of the most precious people in my life.
When someone dies and grief is carried into our friendships, some of those friendships die too.
“Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art, like the universe itself… It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.” C.S Lewis
Poet and writer David Whyte-
Friendship is a mirror to presence and a testament to forgiveness. Friendship not only helps us see ourselves through another’s eyes, but can be sustained over the years only with someone who has repeatedly forgiven us for our trespasses as we must find it in ourselves to forgive them in turn. A friend knows our difficulties and shadows and remains in sight, a companion to our vulnerabilities more than our triumphs, when we are under the strange illusion we do not need them. An undercurrent of real friendship is a blessing exactly because its elemental form is rediscovered again and again through understanding and mercy. All friendships of any length are based on a continued, mutual forgiveness. Without tolerance and mercy all friendships die.
So, does that mean true friendship transcends mortality and death?
Was that friendship that wrapped us in years of deep conversations and joyful holidays and hours of laughter and the salty mix of tears, not true, because it’s over now?
Of course not.
Megan Divine author of “It’s OK that you’re Not OK, writes,
Grief changes your friendships: people you thought would hang beside you in anything turn dismissive, unable to hold their gaze on your pain. People you thought would have no capacity for stillness turn out to be consistent witnesses.
A friend just responded to a letter I wrote to tell me she did not contact me for the past two and a half years so as not to bother me in my grief. Really? I asked her how she imagined I would feel if every friend I knew did the same thing. We all have our limitations and struggles knowing how to respond when a friend is in pain. The reality however, is that although opportunities to offer a hand of friendship arise, these opportunities also come with a due-by -date.
You never know who will come through and who will fade away. The only thing for sure is that grief will rearrange your address book: relationships change
The dynamic of friendship is almost always underestimated as a constant force in human life. A diminishing circle of friends is the first terrible diagnostic of a life in deep trouble: of overwork, of too much emphasis on a professional identity, of forgetting who will be there when our armoured personalities run into the inevitable natural disasters and vulnerabilities found in the most average existence.
And yet diminishing friendships are not only because of this.
During the years I volunteered in an aged care centre I visited a few people who had no visitors. I knew these people had lived rich and meaningful lives and yet aging and distance from family, left them with no friends or visitors. I considered one of these people a friend. I loved visiting him. He was a cantankerous physicist who swore brilliantly. He was angry and lonely and we would laugh at the outrageous things he loved to say. I hope I brought him a little joy in his last days. I know he enriched my life and I am a far better person for having known him.
My father lived to be 94 years old and naturally buried many friends. By the time he died there was only one or two people that had remained friends. It is an inescapable fact that as we age so too do our friends and the longer we live the more likely it is that our friendships will diminish and die.
Friends and relationships change as we grow older. Some cannot survive life’s shifts and changes and some are born out of the same. Some have been dormant for decades and are resurrected much later in life. It is true that friendships hold up a mirror and reflect back to us our light and our shadow. But even that, as true as it is, is not the greatest gift of friendship.
Again David Whyte. “….. no matter the medicinal virtues of being a true friend or sustaining a long close relationship with another, the ultimate touchstone of friendship is not improvement, neither of the other nor of the self. The ultimate touchstone is witness, the privilege of having been seen by someone, and the equal privilege of being granted the sight of the essence of another. To have walked with them and to have believed in them, and sometimes just to have accompanied them for however brief a span, on a journey impossible to accomplish alone.”
And yet, we also need to recognise the moment when life offers us the opportunity and sometime the challenge, to befriend our self.
When we can stand in understanding, acceptance and forgiveness of ourselves, we are far better equipped to do the same for another. And none of us can always do that. We are human after all. We may be all here for a purpose, but thankfully we are not here to be perfect.