Ten years ago, a party was held in my honor to celebrate the close of the first decade of my life. If I remember correctly, the theme for the party was taken from an issue of the American Girl magazine, and involved many things tiny and cute. My birthday being directly before Valentine’s Day, it also meant a lot of red and pink. Pink being my favorite color at the time, I was greatly pleased. A few years later I decided I was too mature for favorite colors anymore, which was a lie, as my wardrobe is still dominated by the twin shades of everything feminine (when I grew passingly bored of pink I switched to the only slightly less popular purple.) We were trying to keep things on the small side, so my mom let me invite five friends. It would have been nice if she would have allowed me one more. I always befriended sisters, who had to come in pairs. Saying I could only have five posed a numerical dilemma akin to that of how to buy the correct quantity of hot dogs to fit their respective buns.
This year, for my twentieth birthday, I had no party beyond the simple celebration with my host family. I am fond of parties, particularly when they are small and involve large amounts of tea, and I am sad to miss a good excuse for throwing one, but such is life. However, missing my twentieth birthday party did cause me to remember my tenth, and in doing so I had a bittersweet realization. Were I still limited to five, none of the five friends invited to my tenth birthday party would have been invited to my twentieth. This is not to say anything against the girls who did come. If I remember the list correctly, they were all very nice people. But friendship is a funny thing, and although I would not have said it at the time, I think only a few of the people at my tenth birthday were actually friends of mine.
One of the people who (I think) was at my tenth birthday party was my friend whom I visited in Oxford, and also her younger sister. While I was visiting her we had a lot of fun talking about how we used to play together. She and her sister moved away shortly after I turned ten, although we kept in close contact for a few years afterward. It was while I was talking with her that I realized what a great friendship we had, and how much I missed not being able to hang out with her and her sister so much anymore. We only met when I was eight or nine, but the impact she and her sister had on my life was so strong, that I was shocked to learn it had only lasted for one or two years before their move. More than this, I realized that for many years, I had no friendship strong enough to compare with theirs. My closest friends before them, a trio of neighbor girls, were chronically busy with school or dance. My closest friend after them I didn’t meet till I was fifteen. In between I had five years, completely blank.
All this is not to say I never played with anyone during that time. I would not have described myself as having no friends. To the contrary, I would have listed a whole troupe of people, and I would have been angry and defensive had anyone suggested they were not good friends. But I have a feeling that my mom worked harder to keep these relationships going than I ever did. As much as I claimed their friendship, never once did I have a long telephone conversation with them. When they faded from my life, I hardly noticed. When I learned to drive, I never visited. I can only assume the feeling was mutual. There’s nothing wrong about it: we tried, we just didn’t click. As far as I know, most of them are even still in the area, we just lack the curiosity and the interest to call each other up and arrange a time for coffee. Is this pathetic? Regretful? I think not. Most likely, they have found better friends than I ever was, just as I have done.
I was afraid, when I left for Germany, that my friends back home would grow complacent in the knowledge of my imminent return, and that a month or two of devoted messaging, emailing, and letter writing would give way to many more months of silence punctuated by an occasional fond note. My insecurity was rooted largely in myself. I was going to have far more work to do in keeping up with everyone back home, and I was afraid I would not be up to the task. I have the impression that most people move through life with only one or two really strong friendships. Only rarely do I meet people who are through college and still have friends from childhood. From what I glean from the world around me, what I read in books, what I see in television, what culture tells me is normal and to be expected from life, it is often rare enough to keep your high-school friends beyond leaving for university. As is only natural, I have considered my own friendships to be better than that. I had always assumed the friends I have now will be ones I will maintain throughout my entire life. I can only believe that most people feel the same way about their own friends, and yet, I see how often they are wrong. To sum my anxiety into one sentence, I was not afraid that my friendships were not good friendships, rather, I was afraid that they were no better than anyone else’s.
On my twentieth birthday, as I reflected upon my tenth, I held up an imaginary toast to my current friends. Not one of them has failed my expectations, and more than one of them has surpassed them. I feel so proud to be blessed with the people I have, and blessed doubly to think of what I have yet ahead of me. I can now anticipate with even greater confidence a future where at eighty, I can tell my grandchildren “Sister Teresa moved in next door when I was three, and we’ve been friends ever since.” Or, “Mrs. so-and-so and I have been friends so long, we don’t even remember how we met.” Or maybe even “She visited me way back when I was spending my year in Germany.”
I wrote this blog post, in a way, to celebrate my own twentieth birthday with some feel-good back-patting. It is a little self-indulgent of me to boast of my good fortune at such length, and maybe a little amusing as well, since to my knowledge, only one of these good friends of mine is a regular reader of this blog. But I am a firm believer in taking joy in your blessings, even if you’ve done nothing to deserve them. So I make no apologies. “Dedicate yourselves to thankfulness.” I read that recently during my prayer time, and I suppose that is what this post is about. This is to honor my friends back home for being fabulous. Thank you for the gifts you have sent this year, thank you for the quick messages whenever you thought of me to tell me you were thinking of me, thank you for the music, and the laughter, and the teatimes dedicated to me, thank you for talking with me, and being there for me, and for keeping in touch, thank you for the letters, and for missing me, and for praying for me. Thank you.