“Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other is gold. A circle is round; it has no end. That’s how long I will be your friend. . .” For many of us, though, these lyrics to the old Girl Scout song don’t always ring true.
Over the years, I have enjoyed rich friendships in almost every place I’ve lived. During my school years, I made friends with my classmates. After school and on the weekends, we played with the neighbors, invited friends to our house, or visited friends at their houses.
We played endless outdoor games or rode bikes. In bad weather, we played dolls, board games, cards, and a variety of make-believe games. Our parents never needed to entertain us.
As young children, friendships revolved around activities. In my junior and high school years, friendships became more intimate with heart-to-heart talks. For girls, mostly about boys. All those raging hormones needed an outlet.
In March of ninth grade, my family moved from South Dakota to Wisconsin. Anxious about pulling up roots at that age, I was relieved when someone befriended me, the new girl. One of those girls lived in my neighborhood, so that summer we spent hours in each other’s homes forging a friendship.
To my shame, though, when I entered tenth grade, I left her friendship behind in lieu of other relationships. Oh, those insecure teenage years that sidetrack us! It’s a wonder any of us survive.
In college, when I developed a passion for certain causes, I found friends in those circles. Our discussions revolved around those issues, but we still partied together. Because that’s what college students do. At least that’s what we did.
In my post-college years, I struggled to build a circle of friends outside the school setting. I suffered through a long, dry spell bereft of friends. Of course, I was friendly in my professional environment. However, for some unknown reason, it never occurred to me to develop friendships among my associates. Kind of a duh now, but then? Blame it on the “taxing twenties syndrome”.
Before electronic communication existed, maintaining long-distance friendships proved challenging. For those who have lived in the same town their entire lives, keeping in touch with childhood friends was a breeze. However, those of us who moved during our upbringing struggled to stay in contact with out-of-town or out-of-state friends. We depended on letter writing because long-distance phone calls became expensive. As a result, many of those friendships faded away.
Enter social media, reconnecting with long-lost childhood friends with a key stoke. Although these lack the joys of face-to-face relationships, it’s still gratifying to get reacquainted even with limitations.
Sometimes – or often times – we grow out of friendships. And that’s hard to face. We feel guilty. Did we do something wrong? Why don’t they like us anymore? While we long to preserve those friendships, some are only meant to last for a season. Because we change. I’m not the same person from 50 years ago, 30 years ago, five years ago, or even one year ago.
In 1998, after twenty years of friendship, a friend turned her back on me because my ideas about religion changed. Instead of discussing it with me, she disowned me. Fast forward to twenty years later when she lay on her deathbed: she asked for me. Not knowing her future, I dropped everything to see her in the hospital.
When I entered her room, she blurted out, “I was unloving. Relationships are more important than doctrine. Please forgive me.” I had long since forgiven her but embraced the apology. Words poured out of her about how my presence had never left her. The room, filled with the fragrance of regret and love, cocooned us. Soon, too exhausted to speak anymore, she whispered goodbye as I hugged her before turning to leave. Lingering at the door, I blew her a kiss. She passed away the next day – at peace once we reunited.
Of course, most friendships don’t fade quite so dramatically. When I homeschooled our kids in the 80s and 90s, many of our friends were homeschoolers. However, once we all finished homeschooling, our group gradually drifted apart - no longer bound to the common thread of homeschooling. Although we have remained friendly, we rarely see each other unless at a special event.
The friendships that do last a lifetime become like family with roots deeply entrenched in our hearts – no matter how we change. No matter what causes we embrace or hobbies we enjoy. These become silver and gold. It’s settled no matter what the winds of time stir up. My friends reading this know who you are.
Years ago, I met one of my dearest friends from San Antonio via email when a mutual friend shared one of my essays with her. From there, Sherri and I chatted frequently through email. When we met, we bonded immediately. Later, we toured Europe together. If you really want to get to know someone, travel with her! We visit often, send Marco Polo videos to each other, and even enjoyed a couple’s trip to New Orleans. It’s the settled relationship comfortable with silence – or not.
Just as treasured, my other friendships have developed from a broad spectrum of encounters throughout our community and beyond: some old and others new. After explaining to my 15-year-old granddaughter about this essay, I asked her if wanted to share a friendship quote with me. She thoughtfully considered it, and texted me later that day: “There are friends, there is family, and then there are friends that become family.”
I shared this quote with a friend of mine who had experienced an abusive upbringing. Because her family memories bring her no joy, she puzzled over the family part of the quote. When I reminded her of the wonderful family she created with her husband and children, the light switched on. For most of us, family is a safe place. Sadly, not so much for others. I hope those precious ones find that friend who becomes silver or gold – that safe place. Friendships, like a cozy quilt on a chilly day or a cool breeze in the summer heat, refresh the soul. They may be flowers that fade after a season or treasured jewels that last a lifetime. Either way, they color our lives.