Yesterday we sat around a table eating food with people we call friends. It was the second Sunday in succession that we’ve had reason to do that.
Some of those friends we get to see on a weekly or at least monthly basis. Others, we haven’t seen – or may not see for years. Yet we still use the same word to describe them – to categorise their presence within our lives; to mark the special relationship we share.
I’ve written to you about the importance family will play in your life. I think my view of family is often dictated by the hours of Irish/Italian American themed TV programmes I watch – positioning myself as the patriarch of a big family – that brings his loved ones together to celebrate a big event; or to be there to support each other when we need to.
Now it’s highly unlikely that your mum and I will have another three or four children, or need a dinner table to accommodate 10 grand children – but it’s not hard to think that we could replace those faces around the table, with that of our friends – your friends.
It’s hard to explain the concept of a friend without drawing parallels with family. We don’t get to choose our family, but then in some ways we don’t always choose our friends. Sometimes we are simply thrown together. We meet them at school, at work, through our partners (in the boy/girl love each other sense). We even meet them on train platforms, on dance floors, in darkened corners of pubs or in the wide open space of fields and festivals. It’s true we can choose whether we want to keep them or not – but if there is an initial spark, that makes you want to engage further, then that person will be a friend for as long as you still find them engaging.
The best friends are the ones you don’t have to try with. You simply pick up the relationship from where ever you left it – bridging the gaps with simple dialogue about what you’ve been up to, or even what you saw on television last night. They are the ones where you don’t have to run through the list of family members who live under your roof; or regurgitate the same conversations about work – that thing you don’t even like talking to yourself about. There’s no floundering, no awkward silence – just clinking of glassware, laughter and the occasional interruption of each other’s personal space.
For real friends still seem to be able to keep an eye on your life, even from a distance. Of course we have email or social media to update those we may not see on a regular basis – but there’s still something about a great friend where they can get up to speed in an instant, just by referencing a name, a place, a memory. Back in to the old routine once more.
It’s not to say that acquaintances – friends without loyalty cards – are any less important. They can flash in and out of your life, yet be there at profound moments when close friends are not. The only difference here is that you’ll share the immediacy of those memories – but won’t necessarily remind each other once the moment has passed. Close friends on the other hand, will know about the moment and share the joy or sadness with you, even though they were never initially involved. That’s how important your bond is.
But what happens when friendships change – when things go sour, or you simply move on? Well, that highlights the fragility of the bonds we share. I’m not in regular contact with anyone I went to school or college with; couldn’t even tell you how to get in touch with anyone I went to university with – and have lost touch with countless people I would call a true, lifelong friend – simply because I moved house, left work; no longer like what brought us together in the first place. But that doesn’t mean the relationship is over. We could casually bump in to each other – decide to call each other; be reintroduced by mutual friends. We could argue the reasons we fell out. We could simply shake hands, hug or kiss our way back in to each other’s lives – or worse still, we could simply talk about family numbers and the job we now do. Only memories will stop us from being true friends again – but the thought of making new memories could be too irresistible to turn down. Only you can decide whether it is worth it in the long run.
Friends aren’t part of our nuclear family, but they are part of what you might call our wider family – and at times they will be more important to you than your mum and me. They will be the first person you turn to, the person you share life with, the reason for your happiness – and in some cases, why you feel down. They won’t necessarily be with you all your life – you won’t always be able to run around the garden with them in just your pants – but you will find yourself sat around a dinner table with them, on a frequent basis, talking about everything other than the number of kids you have or what job you do.
Embrace the good in all the people you meet, for that will draw out the attributes that turns someone from an acquaintance in to a friend. A good friend will then be born from the desire to share as many memories as possible with. A brilliant friend will come from all of that, without you even thinking about it.