Wednesday, July 2, 2008

On friendship.

There is something to be said for friendships that can weather anything. Despite having several that couldn't stand up to the tests given them, I still believe that the right combination of people can remain friends forever. And I mean real friends - the kind to whom you can go weeks or months or years without talking, and yet you can pick up exactly where you left off. People who you can trust with even the deepest, ugliest side of yourself. I'm at a point in my life where I'm realizing that I had badly mislabeled a few friendships I've nursed for decades, thinking they were the be-all and end-all of what friendship should be...and I was completely overlooking those whose devotion truly is unconditional.

It's a very freeing realization.

Perhaps it's only because I'm getting older, "growing up", that I'm able to see now what I have to give, and who is happiest to receive (and most capable of receiving) it. I think about particular people, many of whom are sadly separated from me by a great deal of physical distance (and some of whom I've not yet even shared physical space), who have truly gotten me through the last year at great cost to themselves. I am so lucky to have met them. So, so lucky. I've had some very dark moments, particularly since the start of 2007, and yet I have something that few others can boast: I have a 24/7 network of people, all over the globe, who are at the ready. And I am for them, too. For them, I can always find the smallest reserve of energy, just enough to let them know that I'm here, and I'm listening, and that it's the very least I can do for all they've given me. In fact, I daresay it's what I've been allowed to do for them that truly defines what I now believe is real, honest-to-goodness friendship.

True, there are as many different kinds of friendship as there are people. It's impossible to nail down just what "being a friend" is; the definitions are practically limitless. But it's one of those "you know it when you see it" things. And, sadly, the same can be said for those you thought were unshakable relationships: if you really step back and look hard enough, you can see what your gut has been telling you for a long, long time...and that years do not add up to how well someone truly knows you. Or vice versa.

But I'm blessed. By complete chance, I've stumbled across the strangest, perhaps unlikeliest group of people, who somehow manage always to know what I need and when, and who also honour me with almost unfathomable levels of trust. Somewhere along the line, year after year, I became The Vault. I began to notice that more and more people, people who don't even know each other, were beginning to behave in similar ways - 4 a.m. phone calls, "Ehch-Only" filters on their blogs, confessional emails, whispered conversations in the dark - and they may never know how extraordinarily flattered (god, that seems far too weak a word) I've been to be the bearer of their burdens. To know how many of them think I'm worthy of these snatches of knowledge, these deep and scary secrets, these things that they fear others will judge...but not me.

I think it's through those moments, especially lately, that I've learned some hard lessons about what is and isn't important in a friend. And it has changed everything I thought I was, everything I thought I wanted, and everything I thought I could be.

I am so close to some of you that I have to think for a moment about whether or not we've ever even met face to face. I forget, you see. Because you're here with me all of the time anyway; where your physical self happens to be doesn't really matter much at all. I'm there with you, too.

Some of our friendships are fledglings, sure, but there were things we saw in each other right away that somehow made our bond, and our level of trust, deeper than many I've shared with people I've known all my life. Others of you have been here all along, and we've grown together, which means a great deal to me.

I can't name names, obviously, much as I wish I could let the world know the names of the people who've made my life a thousand times more worthwhile. I'm fortunate enough to say the list would be too long to type here. How miraculous is that? But those of you who are reading this, and seeing yourselves in know who you are. Or I certainly hope you do. (I fear some won't; you're too bloody...humble!) Some of you I've known for eons; others perhaps only a year or two. Some of the gestures have been grand; others have been small and simple. Some of our conversations, confessions, admissions, and moments of breathtaking understanding and complete simpatico have changed me forever. I will never, never be able to express the gratitude I feel for the trust you've put in me, and the faith I have in you, and I hope that never changes.

Now that I'm learning what friendship truly means, I suspect it never will.

I love you guys. And yes, you do know who you are.

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