“Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.”
As I watched my young daughter play with a friend one day, I overheard her playmate say, “We’re best friends forever!”
I smiled and thought about a few of my own childhood “forever” friendships long since ended, then remembered a poem by Oliver Wendell Holmes that begins “Youth fades, love droops; the leaves of friendship fall….”
Friendships, I reflected, usually are not forever. For me, it’s been one of life’s most melancholic lessons.
My father was in the Navy, so from the time I was born until I headed off to college we moved every two or three years. I would make friends in each new city, then we’d move 1,000 miles away and I’d never see those friends again. I enjoyed living in new places, but it was hard leaving friends again and again. By high school, I was tired of it. I assumed that once I got to college, I’d be old enough to make lifelong friends. And surely when I settled down – got married, bought a house – friends would be forever. I blamed the ephemeral nature of my friendships on youth and our military lifestyle.
In college, I was bemused by a professor once telling our class, “If you make three friends for life, consider yourself lucky.” Only three lifelong friends, I thought? Such poverty of friendship! In college alone, I met three great friends, people with whom I assumed I would still be great friends 50 years later. After college, though, those friendships indeed slowly melted away, as regular visits and phone calls turned to an occasional birthday or Christmas card, and finally to nothing. In the subsequent years, I enjoyed other wonderful friendships, each lasting a few years until fading away because of marriage, divorce, a job change or some other major life event. Eventually, I realized that my professor had been right.
Still, I’m an optimistic person, which is why I’ve got one eye trained on the tree of friendship, looking for another leaf I hope will never fall.