And, by that I don't mean physical size, although at times I have wondered why some of my best friends tend to be about half my size...
I mean rather the length and breadth of friendship. What determines who becomes our friend? How long they stay our friends? How close we become?
I have no pat answers:
I have friends whom I have known for all the life I remember (we met in church as toddlers, went through grade school together before I changed states at the age of 14, then we wrote, then we lost track of each other for many of our adult years, re-found one whilst visiting my mother during the last years of her life - and now am in touch with the other two as well).
Another whom, although I know that we only met when she was five and I six, yet still we make the effort to see each other as travels allow - this takes some doing as we don't even live on the same continent! In those two particular cases it was parents, which still lived in similar neighborhoods that allowed the connection not to get lost over the years.
I have lost friends from high school - and not only to death - some simply to lack of maintenance of said friendships, although recently (one of the positive aspects of today's social media) have "found" some again. It is interesting to see how we have changed - or not.
Then there are the friends I met through my-husband-to-be, the summer of 1973 - two of whom are still amongst my very best friends. Although we met through someone else (but then again, don't we always meet someone new through someone else?) these are friendships that clicked then and never grew old. Whether we see each other once a year, once a month, or even (if we are extremely lucky) once a week - there is always something to say, something new to discuss, old topics to revive, information about our current lives to be shared. There were the early years of children, work and family involvement that meant sometimes not meeting at all for a couple of years, yet any time we re-connect, it is as it was yesterday.
There are the friends made when first my oldest went to school (we still have a group who car-pooled that meet 6 or 7 times a year over tea, coffee or a meal - for the past 25 years!)
There are the ones made when my younger son started school 23 years ago, one of whom I still meet most Tuesdays for tea and the latest updates in our lives.
There are the "new" friends - it shocks me that today some of my best friends never met my husband: these too share something too precious to measure.
Some came from business relationships that grew into friendship; others were friends of friends. And yet others friends of family who stayed with me at some point during their European trips. There are no age criteria as many are older and just as many younger; no religious criteria either as amongst my friends I count protestants, catholics, atheists and agnostics (not to split it down any further); nor are there racial barriers although, due to my upbringing and cultural background, most are distinguished by nationality and not skin color.
Having written all this, I realize that there is a common thread: all my friends are people with whom I feel at home, at ease, never needing to "put on a face" (sometimes literally, as my use of makeup is usually restricted to mascara). People whom I find interesting, who are forgiving of my need sometimes to go on and on as I am of theirs (I was once asked why I hadn't consulted a psychiatrist upon the death of my husband. I replied in all honesty: "I don't need one as I have friends who patiently listen to me explain once, twice, three times, four times, ad nauseum what happened"...); individuals who are patient with my foibles as I am with theirs - both knowing that neither is perfect, but accepting the fact. These friends are there to celebrate the good events (weddings, births, job promotions) but are also on stand-by during the bad times (loss of a spouse, retirement, illness). They only ask that I afford them the same respect and care as they offer me.
I had lunch today with one such person: she drove down from her mountains, I took the train from mine – another trait of true friends: when meetings have to be cancelled, sometimes several times in a row, there is still the energy to try again until it happens.
So how it happens, how many times, how long: it all becomes immaterial as long as it exists.
As C.S. Lewis put it: “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art.... It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival.”
Under those terms, I am surviving quite well indeed - thank you, my friends !