It starts with your first birthday. Your mother gathers the other mothers and you eat cake for the first time. Those other babies come in the door with the other mothers and though you can’t say a word or understand what it means to connect with another human, you are connected. Pictures are taken as they sing that famous song and somehow you have your first cohort of friends, quite by accident, through strange acquaintanceships and happenstance. They you are.
Somewhere there is a movie of me seated in a highchair with chocolate cake all over my face. The handheld camera capturing all of us babies with plastic bibs and cake in all our wiggly delight. I couldn’t tell you who these babies are. My family moved from that house shortly after and none of them will be counted in this tally of friendship.
I was lucky to live in relatively the same place for all of my growing up years and since I do not know enough to ask why, friends come and go from my life like water. Some are there for the duration, part of my backyard pond, and some are more like ocean surf, coming and going with the pull of the moon, in and out with tide.
Who can say why friendship does or does not endure? Is it conscious? Do we say to ourselves when we hang up the phone angrily, I cannot take him anymore, I will not call her again. Or is it simply one day we forget to call, and then the next and the next until both parties just give up and the solid of their long soulful walks or their shared connection from college simply drifts away on the tide. Fond memories, to be sure, but no one can understand how they fit into each other’s lives anymore.
I am constantly amazed at what washes up on my beach of friendship. Someone is an acquaintance, then we find ourselves on a committee and suddenly its white wine on the deck, feeling ever so close to someone whose name you couldn’t even remember last year. Or the friend from college who calls across the miles again and again, sharing stories of birth and family and city life. Or the work mates who are part of the warp and woof of every day and then you change jobs and poof, they are distant memories. No one ever told me how the landscape of our friendships would come and go as I aged.
I had a group of friends from high school who I love. We were the misfits and the wackos. We shared love in our awkwardness. We had parties in each other basements and went to the beach together. We never really had boyfriends or girlfriends or went to prom. We didn’t drink, but we laughed and did our homework. We went to nice schools and spread out across the US. But this I will always remember, we vowed to never lose touch. To show our lasting love and devotion, we agreed to meet every year at the front of our high school wearing a white rose (in case we forgot what we looked like). We never asked how on earth we would forget what we looked like or why a white rose or why in front of the high school we hated. You won’t be surprised to learn that we never did that. We aren’t great about keeping in touch either. Different people and friendships have washed up on their beaches as well. We were the shells and seaweed of each other’s surf for a short but important time.
I am always interested in the history of friendship. Jealous of some who seem to have the closest and longest of bonds. Relieved again that I seem to be able to spread my net far and wide, to connect with people from a huge variety of places and times. Perhaps I never made the kind of friend groups and bonds that they show in the movies or that others seem to represent on facebook, but I always feel content that I offer the best of me to others and others in turn offer the best of themselves to me. It has led me to a rich life; one I wouldn’t trade for anything.
I’ve recently been having a series of conversations with an old friend about how to make friends. It seems the older we get, the harder it is to find our tribe in this big wide world. I try to give advice to her, but the truth is, after cake at age one and that small but important group of high school friends, I cannot put my finger on just how one connects to the people with whom one needs to connect. I feel that connection is not worked at or searched for, connection is simply the water in which we live. To live is to connect. Trust and it will happen.
One of the things I marvel about is that people never cease surprising me. I play the guilty game of writing someone off who is too this or too that, and given the chance to know them, I discover they have a story and a side and an empathy that I couldn’t have guessed. My radar for superficiality or banality didn’t work right and I feel embarrassed that I was quick to judge. Mea Culpa friends. I truly love you all.
As I move into this last half of my life, I have such a great long view of friendship. I can feel at ease in a minute with my high school soul mates, accept readily that some friendships will go on hold for awhile, recognize that not everyone I meet is destined to be part of my tribe, and accept beautiful connections as they happen. Its marvelous, isn’t it? How we still celebrate, make a cake and gather round us the people who mean the most to us? Still, we eat cake and sing, marking a year of life and friendship. Watching more starfish wash up on the shore.