What is friendship anyway?
I think the definition varies from one relationship to the next, one stage of our lives versus another. It waxes and wanes...it comes and goes, and sometimes it returns. Sometimes it's the thing that keeps us going; sometimes it's the most important thing in our lives. Other times, it's empty or simply something we can't devote any time to until we take care of ourselves.
The worst kind of friendship is forced. Say, when a couple of people have one or two things in common--like children, or a friend--and they think on some level they must forge some bond. It's beautiful when that works out; ain't no big thang if it doesn't.
I've been thinking a lot about friendship during the past couple of weeks, since I went back into the occasionally soul-sucking vortex of online social networks. I created a Facebook account after being asked three times in one week if I had such an account. So I opened one and shazam! Yes, yes, I'm able to connect with fellow New Haveners and acquaintences. But the big bonus is that I've reconnected with so many friends from high school.
Let's get something straight: High school was not the best years of my life, and you couldn't pay me all the money in the world to return to it. (The only thing worse was 7th grade. And maybe 2005-2006, when I was going through a divorce. But anyway...) I went to an all-girl's Catholic "academy", which was a small school with small classes and close cliques of "nice", mostly Irish, Italian, and Polish Catholic girls. There were 400 of us total in school, with about 100 of us in each class. It was an enriching experience on many levels, but when I left I was done with it and didn't look back.
Now I'm reconnecting with so many women I knew as girls, and it's beautiful to see what course each of our lives has taken in the 17 years since graduation. As a collective, we're doing quite well. To hear from my old friends and get updates on their lives is such a treat. We all knew each other during such formative years; we all knew a certain naïve aspect of each other, from when we were full of aspiration, hope, and hormones. (Most of us are still hopeful, aspiring, and maybe a bit too hormonal.) Basically, it's nice to reconnect with people who understand and accept each other with few words and much unconditional care and concern.
I am lucky. I have a few very close girlfriends--and quality is more important than quantity. People like Renee, Heide and Mary are forces of strength in my life that keep me up when I'm having trouble keeping myself up. I have plenty of acquaintences who are dear to me, too. But pure friendship is something that we cannot take for granted, nor is it something we can force. It either happens, or it doesn't. The fact that I have a pool of old friends with whom I can reconnect on a meaningful level is profound. It feels like home when I talk to them.
My grandmother has kept in touch with childhood and college girlfriends her entire life. Each month she meets up with friends from her days at Regis College, and all-women's Catholic college in Massachusetts. They lunch. They celebrate birthdays (this year they're all turning 80), and the keep each other laughing through whatever inevitable downs they must ride out in life.
I used to say that if I ever had a girl I wouldn't send her to the high school I attended. The point is moot: I don't have a daughter, and I likely never will. But I can't rule out the value of an all-women's education. As I lunched at Grandma's on Wednesday, she pulled out some photos of her mother's sister and family. They're all dead now, but Grandma's first cousins were, like Grandma, well-educated at esteemed private schools. Grandma pointed to the boys. "Jimmy died when he was 3. John went to West Point and then Yale, once the war was over. Then he married a DuPont." she said. "Edmund was drafted and died in France, where he's buried. The twins and Mary each had a debutante ball, and Mary went to Smith. She used to come by and visit on her way up to see her old college friends. Do you remember that?"
Of course I didn't.
But what I do know is that if you lined up the generations of women in my family, you'd find that the strongest ones had the best education, unbelievable loss and heartbreak, brilliant and beautiful children, and amazing girlfriends to whom they could always return to find missing pieces of themselves.