Thursday, January 19, 2012

Make New Friends, But Keep the Old....

I have been thinking about friendship a lot lately.

Obviously, as most of you have figured out, a lot has been going on in my life the last couple of years, all starting from when my mother died in 2009. Needless to say, it's been a bit of a rough patch. Not as rough as many other people I know (and whom I send my love and thoughts to now, again), but it still has not been all Pollyanna.

Who really is an awful awful kid to read about. I mean, seriously? That kid needed to be taken out back and shot, not forced down so many of our throats.... Ugh. I really think my hang-up on "blond perfect smiley happy shiny women" started because of that book. I much preferred Shel Silverstein's little girl:
There was a little girl who had a little curl
Right in the middle of her forehead
And when she was good she was very very good
And when she was bad she was horrid
Sorry. Yet again, an irrelevant tangent.... I'm pretty good at those.... As a girl once said to me my freshman year at college: "Do you ever take a breath?"

Umm. No. Not really.

Back to the point of the post: friendships.

I am sure every one has heard the lyrics:
Make new friends
But keep the old...
One is silver,
The other, gold.
I will admit that while I always really liked those lyrics, I'm not completely sure I ever truly understood them. At least not until I got older, and found out a few truths about life.

It is said that you never know who your true friends are until you are in the foxhole -- and you look around to see who is in there with you. Of course, when you add in that I grew up in Washington, DC -- and yes, the city proper, not in one of the surrounding suburbs -- the situation can only seemingly get worse. After all, the most famous quote about Washington and friendships is:
"If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog."
-- Harry Truman
I have two. Dogs, that is. So I am soooopah popular. Really. Up there with the "blond perfect smiley happy shiny women"....

Clearly though, friendships can be an uphill battle. For every one, not just those of us who fancy ourselves "creative, artsy, sensitive" types....  (Stop griping you people who know me: okay, okay, I'll take out the "sensitive" part....!)

And I can say from personal experience -- and from talking to every single one of my friends, and most of my acquaintances -- it is very very hard to find those people who will be right next to you in the foxhole. Sometimes it is just because people don't know what to say or do during a crisis, sometimes it is because you were not as good of friends as you thought, sometimes it's that the other person is not as good of a person as you thought. Whatever the reasons, when the shit hits the fan, it can sometimes be a very lonely place in that foxhole...

The truth be told though, the most important thing to acknowledge in this discussion is that it is not always the people you have known the longest that are there in the hole with you -- sometimes it is someone you just met, and it may surprise the hell out of you...

Which is why the song is really so good.

Old friends often prove to be incredible because they've known you for so long. They know your flaws, faults, frustrations -- your bitchiness, your short temper, your impatience -- they know your good points, your positives, and your charm -- your humor, your quirks, your affections. They have been around so long, they actually have their own skin in the game. They have had the chance to weigh all your good points against your bad points, and make an informed decision that they want to still hang around you. They are most definitely gold.

New friends though have not yet had the chance to weigh the good against the bad. They may not know you very well at all, they may know only one side -- or the other. They don't have any skin in the game, and may not even know when something is wrong, let alone what to do about it or why to care. Yet they can offer so much, reflecting a new side of yourself, teaching you new things about life and your own personality, bringing out new qualities. The good ones are definitely silver -- so valuable in and of itself -- with the chance to become gold.

Many years ago, I made a conscious decision about friendships: I was no longer going to bother being friends with the people who were "out of sight, out of mind" friends. The kind that were tons of fun when you saw them, but rarely made the effort to be in touch with you when you were not around. And it's not like you had to move away to be "not around"! The ones you could pretty clearly see would never ever be in the foxhole. I decided that it was no longer (if it ever was!) worth the idea of having "quantity" in friendships, but only "quality".

It was not that my life had gotten any busier, and I was just trying to focus on a few people with quality effort on my part -- it was that I realized I was surrounded by a lot of lovely people, and also by some really really key people. So no matter how much -- or how little -- time on my hands, why not focus it on those key people?

It is not that love is a single pie that gets divided. On the contrary, I believe very strongly that love only increases exponentially. So if one is surrounded by lots of really key people, you will have plenty of time, effort and love to share.... So the matter is the quality of the friendship -- not the amount of love, effort or time.

And my, did I have that quantity versus quality thrown in my face in the last few years.... No matter how well prepared you are for the idea that friends may not prove to be good friends when you really need them, it still hits you with pretty brutal force when you look around the foxhole....  But this is not a post to complain about those friends who have proven to not be there during difficult times. This is a post to highlight those that were...

In the past few years, rather than be disappointed or depressed by how few people really proved to be there at times when I most needed a hand, I have been incredibly touched and grateful to those people who were there. In many cases, pleasantly surprised even!

There were friends who went above and beyond -- and continue to do so. Friends without whom I could not have survived, without whom I would not be the person I am today. Friends who, like the religious poem "Footprints", carried me when I thought I was beyond any more effort. This included friends I had known for years and friends I had only barely gotten to know. This included family (of course) who proved to be friends, as well as related. It includes people to this day who have taken the time to read my blog posts and Facebook posts, and to send notes of concern -- despite any real day-to-day interactions other than digitally.

Basically, it was every one who took the time, no matter how small or large, to say "I see. I care. I want you to know you're not alone." As the foxhole can be quite dark, cold, scary and lonely. So it is amazing how much even little things can mean -- and how much their absence can really hurt.

And the friends who did the large things? The above and beyond things? They have reserved a special place in my heart, and in heaven.

If they believe. If they don't, well... then in wherever the hell they want to be!

So tonight, take the time to reflect upon the friends who have been there for you during tough times. Take a moment to say "thank you" to them. Toast them, praise them to any one who will listen, and say a little prayer of gratitude for how very lucky you are to have them....

As when you look back at your life, you will see those footprints in the sand, and see when you walked with someone, and when you were carried by them.....

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