January 1 is not my only New Year. Having been a student for so long and sometimes also a teacher, I also treat Labour Day and that Tuesday, the First Day of School, as a New Year. I use both for making inner resolutions and taking stock. I rarely keep the resolutions for long but the stock taking… That’s different. That seems to settle into my bones, slowly maybe but there, helping secure and direct where and how I go next.
I have been considering many things in the past few weeks – RIVERDALE, my collection of short stories; my family and how I miss being near them and how they influence my life even from a distance; my relationship with my in-law family and how that’s been changing since we moved back here; even my political/social beliefs seem to be not changing perhaps but certainly solidifying. Mostly though, I have been thinking most about the people who are in me but not with me.
We have been so lucky to have friendships from many places, many times, many situations and a lot of those friendships have continued on however rickety a basis – sometimes a matter of just birthday and Christmas cards, sometimes more frequents communication and, if I’m really fortunate, with time spent together. I was particularly struck by this late last month when my niece, Lauren, was in town with her husband Geoff. I really don’t know him; he was a hug & a handshake at their wedding a couple of years ago but he seems rather nice and is definitely a very bright young man. Nor have I had the chance to spend a lot of time with Lauren since she was a girl, although I have always admired her quick mind and faith in herself and her beliefs. Still, the couple of hours we had together were a revelation: family is family. You can ignore it or you can embrace it or you figure out something in between that works for you but family is always with you in some fashion.
Friends, however, are different. Friends, I think, need to be encouraged. They need to be reminded sometimes that they are fundamental to your well-being and you are grateful for that. You need their kindness, their support, their laughter, their ability to pick you and kick you in the butt when you need that and hug you when you don’t. You need the generosity of friends to see you through the hard times. You need friends their wit to share a point of view and their voice to help you sharpen your argument. You need friends to borrow their pots & pans, their books, their eggs and 3 minutes of their time. You need friends to kick back and share a bottle of wine, a pound of cheese and insight into the world of reality tv. You need friends to be a better you.
Because what you take out of friendship, you need to give back. You need to be a friend to offer a shoulder to cry on and practical advice when the shoulder’s damp. You need to be a friend to agree that he’s an idiot and she’s been unkind and that movie is amazing, always without burning any bridges in your comments. You need to be a friend to offer a bed, a meal, a light at the end of the tunnel, and to help dig that tunnel sometimes. You need to be a friend let the venting happen, just like you feel safe to vent on your friends.
I also want to remind us all about friendships that seem too big for the word friend. These are the people who have put you on a path that changed your life. Or who tell you “yes you can” when you think you can’t. Or who simply just show up when it feels like very knock on door is more bad news because this person knocking has no agenda, except friendship.
I have friends in several different countries, of varying ages and backgrounds, of many different occupations and avocations, of competing and complementing passions and paths. I have friends with whom I swear I share a brain and a heart, we think so much alike and I have friends who are my polar opposite. I have friends whom I love as much as family and friends I really barely know and yearn to find out more about them.
My stock taking this month includes reviewing all my friendships. Going through my address books and my journals, reading my facebook page, sifting through old – written – correspondence. This is my mental and emotional “Pensieve”, my gift to myself and also, I hope, to my friends who mean so much to me.
My resolution, which comes out of this stock taking, is write more letters, send more cards, be more available to reach out to and be reached by my friends because, as Helen Keller said, it is better to walk in the dark with a friend than to walk alone in the light.