On friends and friendship

It’s been a full month since I’ve posted anything here, and from the beginning I promised myself I would post regularly, but not post trivia (by my own definition, of course.) The last month as been filled with the trivia of “life as usual”, and when I’ve occasionally looked for some theme running through it that would merit musings at the keyboard, I’ve come up short.

But “life as usual” here is approaching its seasonal end as we prepare to leave in a week for Kitchener to spend Christmas with our southern Ontario kids and grandkids, and then head south to take up “life as usual” in Mexico for the next several months.

One thing that I have been thinking about, as I prepare to leave my “real” home for my “adopted” home, is the nature of friendship—the comfortable, predictable, utterly unconditional friendship of my oldest and closest friends, but also the surprise of new and growing friendships at a time of life when I wasn’t expecting that.

My core of friends hasn’t changed much in forty years. These are the people—not many, mostly women—I raised my children with, shared the learning curve of living a rural life with, struggled through the shifting perspectives and priorities of middle age with, and who will be there for me, as I hope I will be for them, come what may.

Over the years, the circle surrounding this core has grown and shrunken, lately shrunken more than grown. Some people have moved, a few have died, others have simply drifted away. The core is not exactly the same for each of us, but we all know where we fit in the Venn diagram of personal history and affection, and there’s real comfort in that.

A few days ago we celebrated the 70th birthday of one friend—we are all a year or two one side or the other of that watershed—when the conversation turned to an annual cookie exchange many of the women have been part of for decades.

“We pack up Christmas boxes for the old people,” said one of them. We looked at each other around the room and burst out laughing. I’m not sure who will be getting the cookies.

In the decade since I’ve been spending several months every year in Mexico, I’ve developed a second set of friendships—more varied, not so stable, never to be so deep. People come and go in that ex-pat world at a staggering rate. But I value those relationships, too. These people know only the “me of now.” They don’t have my younger self to provide the layers of nuance to my every word and act. They can’t compare today’s adamant statement to decades of contrary opinion. WYSIWYG. Tat works both ways, of course. Liberating, in a way; I carry no baggage. Less forgiving, too, I suspect. But full of promise. At least one fellow snowbird has become a close, year-round friend.

Then, there are some very special friendships that I’ve developed over the past few years as a member of three writing groups—two here, one in Mexico. Getting to know people through their writing, and their response to my writing, is unlike any other relationship I’ve ever had. Without knowing each other well or in any other context, we share an intimacy that sometimes exceeds that shared by any but my very closest friends. From being virtual strangers, we plunge into each others’ personal spaces, sensitivities, and vulnerabilities; we quickly develop a strong sense of mutual trust, honesty, and caring. Friendship on the fast track.

Many friends, of course, defy classification—people I’ve met and worked with whose friendship has had staying power beyond the original context.

So here’s to friendship, however and wherever it develops. To its ability to sustain, inspire, comfort, forgive.

There’s snow on the ground here, and it was minus 20 Celsius when we got up this morning—though they’re calling for warmer weather and rain over the next few days. We’ll be driving to Mexico right after Christmas. The last car trip, since our plan is to leave the car down there and fly home in the spring. If the trip down proves interesting, I’ll add some comments and observations en route. (Perhaps I’ll be unable to resist something about Christmas with my youngest grandchildren before then.) In the meantime, enjoy the holiday season!




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