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ubiquitous symbol of friendshipWhat makes us bond with certain people more closely than others?  And no matter how strong the bond, how long will it last when life keeps rolling along?  I’ve made truly wonderful friends during the years spent in Wisconsin, California, Minnesota and Ohio.  Through our tiny grade school, where 25 of us spent eight years growing up together.  In high school, during Latin class and play practices and tears at the curtain calls.  And college, where dorm living makes a village.  In each workplace, with lunch hours and water cooler chats and living through the familiar, ridiculous situations where any office becomes The Office.  Through each of the kids’ schools, working side by side with other parents on volunteer projects and where shared insights into each age makes each stage so much easier.  With each move came the new neighbors that became part of our lives, with shared driveways and snow blowers and perennials and lawn weeds and impromptu Friday nights sitting outside and sharing a beverage.  All of a sudden and 40 odd years later, I have hundreds of people scattered all over the country who were once a big part of my life.

So, each chapter has its own set of friends, born from close proximity and shared experiences.  As we move from place to place, moving on to the next chapter, each set goes through seemingly inevitable stages.  It feels weird.  How can someone have been so close to me for so long, so intertwined in my life — yet within a time after moving on, often the bond starts to let go?  The impermanence of it tugs at my heart.  It just doesn’t seem right.

Even as I grow older, and hopefully a little wiser, I still feel a sense of mourning for the friends that pass to the next stage. The phone calls get less frequent, the correspondence dwindles to only once a year, maybe a forwarded email joke or just the Christmas card.  Oh, the Christmas cards!  Every year, robed in the nostalgia and warm feelings of the holidays, I think of my far-flung friends and I want to send a card to all of them! *each with a handwritten personal note! * and I quickly become so completely overwhelmed that I don’t know where to start and I end up with a pre-printed message mailed on December 23rd. *Sigh*  Maybe I should start in March?

Because I don’t want to let go.

But the older I get, I also realize that the change of relationship does not have to be a mourned event.  We can let each other go, for now, so we have room in our heart for the next group of friends that are meant to be met.  The ones who are here, today.  It’s okay.  And, when we plan a trip to the town of the old friend, more often that not, the relationship can be instantly rekindled and within minutes we are laughing and reminiscing and talking about what has changed and it seems like just yesterday that we were together.  The friendship didn’t die, it just went dormant, like a flower who must take a break for the winter and when the spring comes it can pop back up.

Friendship feels so good, and it just makes sense that it is good for us too.  In her article, “What Are Friends For?  A Longer Life”, author Tara Parker-Pope discusses the scientific evidence behind what “the girlfriends” have known all along — having close friends by our side can make life healthier and happier.  The ones far way still keep us healthy too.

I have much admiration for those people who choose to maintain the lifelong friendships at an active level, with all the people along the way.  I have a friend who wrote letters to a cross-country, cross-generational friend for years.  They wrote to each other every day.  On actual paper, with an envelope and a stamp.  That is so poignant to me, such a gift.  I have trouble mailing a card to anyone on time, and technically I know the date of the birthday a year in advance.  But hopefully my friends and family know it is not that I don’t love them, it is an implementation issue.  Or maybe it is a completion issue.  I also have trouble getting started.  It’s complex.

Big D and I have an old joke, a sitcom (Seinfeld?) scenario where only people who are “interviewing for friends” will potentially still have openings.  Like many sitcom jokes, it is the nugget of truth that makes it so funny.  I’ve lived here longer than I have lived anywhere since my childhood home, but I still have openings.  I’ll welcome the new people I am meant to meet.  I’m keeping all the wonderful memories from all the friends along the way, until our paths cross again.  In the meantime, here is what friendship looks like to me.