|This photo of my friend S.J.|
was taken six weeks ago, on the occasion of a
birthday party she arranged for me.
Making friends is not something that comes to me easily. In fact, you could say that I rarely, if ever, initiate the process and that I become ‘friends’ with somebody almost in spite of myself.
This is not something new or recent. I have no fond memories of friends of old, I barely remember the names of two or three school or college friends, every job I’ve ever had I have left more or less without a backward glance of regret at losing colleagues who might have become friends. I have certainly never felt obliged to keep in touch with a holiday acquaintance, no matter how much fun we might have had while thrown together by chance.
Poets wax lyrical about true and faithful friendships, friendships for life, in good times and bad; friends who support each other through thick and thin. Cynics use expressions like ‘fair weather friends’. Ambrose Bierce defines friendship as “a ship big enough to carry two in fair weather, but only one in foul”.
I have observed friendships between others, I have seen friends fall out over trivialities, I have watched them rip each other apart and get back together again afterwards as if nothing had happened. Woe betide the innocent bystander chosen to supply a sympathetic ear, if she gives an opinion that amounts to more than a mild “oh dear”, she will find herself in the black books of both friends once they have made up. I have seen close friends ask each other to be totally candid; “tell me honestly, what do you think?”, they say – and not just ‘does my bum look big in this?’ - and watched the fall-out, standing well clear myself.
Close friends tell each other ‘everything’ over the years, they confide in each other, revealing their innermost secrets; their power to wound is therefore almost unlimited.
How wonderful it is that there are those who never use this power, friends who are true to each other and remain friends to the end. I know of one old lady in her eighties who still meets up with friends from junior school. “There were four of us”, she tells me, “ one has gone now, but the rest of us visit each other and we still have lots to talk about”. She has actually admitted to knowing everything there is to know about them.
Personally, I would very much dislike knowing ‘everything’ about somebody else, or have somebody else know ‘everything’ about me.
In spite of all my misgivings expressed here, I do have friends. There is one in particular, whom I have known for just over twelve years, one whose heart was big enough to welcome me and all my crankiness without reservation. We have almost nothing in common, but each recognized in the other a quality worth exploring, a kindred spirit, a straightforward, realistic world view, a willingness to help those in need and a common love of the observation of others’ foibles.
Dearest S.J., I have never heard you say an unkind word about anyone, have never heard you complain about any of the obstacles life put in your way. You kept your spirits up in the face of deep unhappiness. “Got to make an effort”, you said during the hardest times. Even now, in your darkest hour, your indomitable spirit is a beacon to us whom you are leaving behind.
Thank you for accepting me as your friend.