Sunday, 16 December 2012

The path to friendship

 As I wrote Christmas cards, I mulled over on the nature of friendship. The cards are reserved mainly for those I think about often but don't get a chance to see regularly. I suppose too that the Christmas period, which brings the year to a close, is another measure of the time I've had with the friends in my life. And that’s always worth pondering.

I read somewhere that most people are lucky if they have a couple of true long-term friends; friends who want the best for you, who aren’t judgmental and who pull you into line when you’re screwing up. Using that gauge, I consider myself lucky because I have an abundance of those types of friends in my life. There’s Raffaele—he was four and I was six when we met and remained neighbours for two decades. In the 51 years since our first meeting we have had at least weekly contact. My friend Jo and I met at the age of 12. We still catch up for coffee each week and meet at other times depending on what life is dishing out. There is a cluster of friends that extends back 20 years or so. Of course there are more recently made friends, many of whom I already know will become part of that long-term category.

What has kept our friendships strong for so long? For me it’s this: I’m drawn to those I admire and respect for the way they treat others and how their espoused values are congruent with their actions. They live authentically. These friends are staunch and reliable; they extend themselves when it’s not always comfortable to do so. Doesn’t matter how busy they are they find space for our relationship. They invest in honesty and they are genuinely interested in my life and that of others around them. They are devoid of competitive natures within our friendship. They are fiercely loyal and supportive. They celebrate my victories and commiserate my losses. They pull me up when I'm being a jerk. They’re a reality check in my life. I hope they see the same qualities in me.

I'm grateful that my parents modeled friendship for me. They demonstrated that these special relationships are made up of shared experience; thought and deed, good times and tough. Recently, my father gave the eulogy at the funeral of his friend of 75 years. It was a friendship made up of reciprocal weekly visits, social get-togethers, regular phone calls and always practical help. Shared time is all these situations built a rich history. Dad delivered the eulogy without a single written prompt. I was astounded at his eloquence in the circumstances then it struck me that despite his distress, the ease of his speech came from knowing his friend so well.

It’s said that people come into our lives for a reason, a season or a lifetime. I've had lots of seasonal friends—born of study and work situations. Some of these relationships have taken root and become a sturdy part of my life, others have blow away with the changing winds of circumstance and time. I don’t lament them; every relationship has taught me something. Then when social media gave us a new version of ‘friendship’, I wondered what it would mean for my son’s generation. Would he experience friendship the way I feel I've been lucky enough to do? I needn’t have worried. While he’s part of the social media savvy cohort with lots of Facebook friends and a Twitter profile, he made an astute observation, ‘Mum, one click doesn’t make a friendship. You have to sit with your friend and look them in the eye, that’s where the relationship develops.’

He’s living by that too. At the ripe old age of 28 he already has a mate of 23 years standing and they spend a lot of time together. He recognises that friendships need an investment of time and emotion. He’s taken to heart the lesson passed down from his grandparents, living out Ralph Waldo Emerson words, ‘Go often the house of your friend, for weeds choke the unused path.’

I'm glad in this frenetic world we have lots of ways of high-tech ways of staying in touch with one another, I'm a fan of these new media. But I still love the beautiful maintenance work of friendship: the effort you expend to make someone else’s day, tweaking your schedule to find the time to just ‘be’ in each other’s company, and yes, even that daunting stack of Christmas cards you have to write.