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Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Her post made me think of our age difference and how it might color our ideas of friendship with a two completely different pallets. She is 27, and I am 63. You can do the math.
I have written about friendship before, but since reading Lauren’s piece, I have been examining the friendships I have had and how they happened, how some of them ended, how some of them have survived the tornados that periodically ravage my life.
I don’t have many friends, don’t really like or understand many people, which, to me, has to be at the core of a friendship. Understanding. A simple word when you write it down, but when you try to take it apart, it carries great weight and is buttoned up tightly, difficult to access. In the understanding at the heart of a friendship is also forgiveness, sacrifice and truth. You cannot have a friend unless you are willing to accept their flaws, forgive their sins and be open to hard truths.
So, how does it happen, this understanding that leads to friendship? Is it a chemical thing? Are we congenitally programmed to seek out people we can understand and that understand us? I believe so, but then, I believe in love at first sight. It happened to me. And all of my friendships have been at first sight also.
In her blog post, Lauren chronicles her friendships from early childhood. She, in a real sense, categorizes them.
The thing is, I don’t believe there are categories of friends. A friend is a friend, not an acquaintance or someone you network with online. I love my blogging friends from afar, but if we ever met, would that attraction hold up, make us friends, make us trust and understand one another? Think about it.
What about work? Do I have any friends at work? I don’t. I like and respect and admire the nurses and doctors and techs and secretaries with whom I work, but they are not my true friends. They will never “understand” me. They are my comrades, which isn’t the same thing as being my friend. Our differences are a large part of why we are an effective team. We share experiences every day and each, in his own way, processes those experiences differently. My true friends understand my reactions and responses, but that is not necessarily true in the workplace. There is nothing wrong with that. These are, for the most part, decent people who are valuable as human beings, but I don’t want to buddy up with my coworkers. I need to leave them at work, where they belong.
I’m friendly with my postman, the guy from Federal Express, my nail tech, my hairdresser, the pharmacist who fills my prescriptions, the cute girls who run the cupcake shop, the guy at the bank, my doctor, my insurance people and countless others, but they are not my friends. They are pleasant acquaintances and I enjoy seeing, speaking to and smiling at them.
My late husband I shared only three good, solid friends, the kind of friends you can call at four in the morning and confess that you are in jail for DWI, and they would haul themselves out of bed and come bail you out. On the other hand, we each had our own friends, just ours alone, and it worked for us. I didn’t try to get him to go out to dinner with my best friend, because he couldn’t stand to breathe the same air as her husband. That friendship belongs to just us girls.
They are disparate in nature, these friends, but we both loved them dearly, and two of them are still here for me now that Clint is gone. These people are my friends. What happened to the third one is a post in itself.
I was once invited to join a garden club, but when I discovered that I had only one friend in the group, I declined. Those organizations are for people network, get in with the right crowd. One doesn’t go out and look for friends. They just happen. At least the real ones do. Besides, I detest yard work.
I have been in relationships that I thought were friendships, but they were not. Either I stopped understanding them or they me, or maybe we never did understand one another. There’s nothing wrong with that. It happens. It hurts. But you move on.
Childhood friends rarely make it past seventh grade. Lauren skillfully illustrated that in her piece. I only had one childhood friend and one high school friend who survived the changes in our lives. My best friend from fourth grade, Mary Ellen, remained my friend through two of my mother’s marriages and all of the moves she put us through in order to satisfy her own needs. We landed back on Saint Simons Island the summer between ninth and tenth grades, and Mary Ellen and I fell right back into step. She was still my friend when she went off to school and I stayed home to go to nursing school. Marriage and work and living in different area codes did not chip away at our friendship. We were still close and understanding when she was diagnosed with lung cancer and died two months later. (I loathed her husband, a self-aggrandizing egoist writer who was also a drunk). And, yes, when I walked into Mrs. Medlin’s fourth grade class, Mary Ellen and I looked at each other and by first recess we were friends.
And then there is Don, first cousin of Mary Ellen’s husband, Jim. In an incredible example of synchronicity, Clint and I met him when she died. I had heard about him for years, a visual artist without a day job, talented watercolorist, who lived in Valdosta Georgia, but we had never met. It turned out that he disliked his cousin as much as I did. The night of Mary Ellen’s visitation, I was manning the phones at the house when Don walked in. We were instantly “in friend.” Amazingly, he and Clint were, too. We all fell into step, and Don , “Cuz,” as I like to call him, became part of the family. He got me through Christmas the last two year by coming to stay with me.
I am still very close to my friend from tenth grade, Shirley. We all called her The Squirrel, and we were friends at first sight. Fortunately, she was fond of Mary Ellen, too. Our friendship survived her five marriages and my two. She is now on number six. We may not talk but once or twice a month, but I know she is there, and she knows I am here. Our friendship survived my marrying a physician and her being broke all the time.
My best friend here in town, Nancy, recruited me to work in the Medical Intensive Care Unit shortly after my move to Macon - trying to escape my mother and my former husband. We had an interview and came away from it, well, friends. This friendship has had its ups and downs, but it is solid and has survived things like my husband not liking hers and her pulling away from me for several years back in the 80’s, then coming back into my life. We never discussed what happened or why, and at this time of life, who gives a rip? It happened, it un-happened and that is that.
I didn’t mean for this to turn into an essay about my friends, but it seems wrong not to include my other real friend. Her name is Fonda, and she is the strongest woman I have ever known. She lives in Augusta, Georgia, but we became friends when she lived in Macon. We worked together, but before that, we fell in friend at a conference in Vail, which I was attending to learn to teach people now to stop smoking in a program that she would manage at the hospital. She was my boss. I don’t have friends at work now, but she and I were friends before we started working together. By the time the conference was over, we were swilling champagne and telling stories about ourselves while our husbands were playing golf or fishing. She is one that I can call in the middle of the night.
So, friends, friendship. I don’t believe my ideas about it are different from Lauren’s. At the end of her piece, she had come to the conclusion that, “....being selective doesn’t necessarily mean bad.”
I believe, as wise as she already is, that her friend filter will become as well developed as mine. (Even if I am 36 years older than she).
© cj Schlottman