Your annual holiday letter and photo card arrived last month. Like every year, I studied the photo and read each word of the letter. Then, like every year, I hung the picture on a long ribbon with other holiday cards and put your letter next to my computer so that I would take the time to write you back.
Unlike every year, this year I am writing you back. My method may be a little more public than most letters between longtime friends, but I have a feeling I’m not the only one with better intentions than actions, not the only person who smiles at the remembrance of someone with whom they haven’t shared air space in a very long time.
I’m not the only person who needs to thank someone but doesn’t know how.
Recently a friend told me she was sad. Although her life had changed a great deal in the past year she felt she had lost friends in the process. I suspected that she hadn’t lost friends as much as she lost commonality with her friends. Things — location, challenges, interests, careers … a wild, mad variety of things bring people together. They also keep people together. When any common bond breaks it doesn’t mean the friendship ends, but it does change. I think that may have been what happened to her. I know that is what happened to us.
Our friendship began far away in time and geography — freshman dorms. Our commonality was address, Bob Seger and dollar quarts of Haffenreffer poured so the head could hold a straw upright. That drink morphed into Crate and Barrel glasses of Captain Morgan and Coke, careers and new grown-up lives in the same state. You married on a snowy night and we celebrated by candlelight at a historic inn. Our paths no longer parallel, we assumed friendship longevity. You schlepped the jeans that I left at your house in the trunk of your car for years and I always forgot to get them.
Then our commonality shifted more — you had babies and I couldn’t relate. Hindsight insists I tell you how great you were at juggling it all. Cringe-barrasment says I should have been less selfish and listened to your new challenges instead of focusing on my own.
Sometimes common bonds break but the history of a friendship is enough to maintain it in a new form. I can’t imagine how my page in your address book looks — lots of changes. Sorry about that. But thank you for making room in the book for me. Thank you for that gift. It’s how I’ve been able to connect with your life for many years. How I could watch your freckle-faced son grow into a handsome man, your daughter turn from impish little girl into an accomplished equestrienne. The addition of horses and dogs to the family photos told me volumes about you as a mother. Your letters have always included not only the good, but the challenging. Your mood was always clear: Delighted. Sad. Stressed. Content. I admire that. It’s a sign of an honest, big heart.
We have not shared a state since 1989. But we have kept connected — though, I’m ashamed to say, through very little effort on my part.
In my experience most friendships end not because of drama or with hurt feelings; they usually fade because of circumstances. I am grateful that your big heart keeps a space for me despite the changes in ours. You have a place in mine as well.
Your longtime, long-distance and long apologetic friend,