Today is the birthday of my 1st friend from first grade. We have been friends for nearly 42 years. I have known her almost as long as I have known my own sister, and much like my sister and I, we have a shared history that simply connects us whether we are in good times or in bad, getting along swimmingly or barely speaking. There is a quote from C.S. Lewis about friends, “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art…. It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.” It matters to me, a lot, that my 1st friend from first grade has been the most successful relationship of my life. Every time I’ve had a break up, whether it was a 24 hour fling, a 24 day whirlwind, a 24 month romance, or a decade of commitment, I’ve found myself deeply contemplating “what must I have been thinking?” and yet, through all these years, I’ve never once questioned my relationship with her, and she remains a constant love in my life.
We don’t get to pick our family; those relationships either flow or don’t, and we either work at them fiercely, trying to ensure that they succeed, or we don’t make much effort at all, and their survival or death is simply a matter of how much we tolerate or how much we don’t. I know a number of people who have ended, totally, relationships with people to whom they are related…but with a friendship, a relationship that only exists because we choose, there is a constant understanding that it is purposeful and intentional, the maintenance of it…we don’t HAVE to know each other and we don’t HAVE to like each other, we want to. How many of us at some time have heard some relative of ours say we “should apologize” or “should call” or “ought to” do some act that expresses forgiveness or understanding, to a relative because of some quarrel or miscommunication? I suspect most of us, but a friendship is quite different, we don’t have to do anything at all, it is by choice, and through deliberate actions that we keep a friendship viable.
My 1st friend from first grade and I have had periods of time where we neither spoke nor saw each other; some short phases of a lapsed relationship, and some V E R Y L O N G periods of little to no contact, but what I do know for sure, is that if during any one of those phases when we were absent from one another, if I needed her for anything or she needed me, we each would have been there without question for the other. She never liked kids nor wanted children and it was not lost on me, at 18 in the hospital, just hours after I became a mother, that she was the first person who came to see me. I admire her in many ways, most significantly in her ability and desire, and frankly her skills, at remaining true to herself, always. She constantly follows her gut and goes where life feels right for her. She says what she thinks and she does what she wants and I respect her so much for that. I question myself constantly and I don’t think she ever has to. When we were teenagers, we spoke on the phone every single day, now we speak on the phone once a year or so, mostly a text now and then, but when I am with her, it’s as if we still talked on the phone every night. We are profoundly connected by time and history. We went in very different directions in life, perhaps both by choice or both by circumstance…I think she is far more pleased with the choices she made than I am, but that is simply the past and what is done can’t be un-done. She is still the person I use for my ‘password prompt question’ on any web site when it asks for “best friend,” and she is still the person I think I would first want to tell if something wonderful happened to me, or something awful. We’ve shared a long and winding road, even when we were moving in totally opposite ways, and still we continually find ourselves traveling down different paths and neither of us knows for sure what view we might have next, or where our present route is going to lead us, but much like having a compass to find North, I will know, no matter what my course, or what phase of life I’m in, or what part of my journey I am trying to forget, unravel, or erase from my mind, she will be part of my knowing who I am in this world…I am a woman who has a good friend.