816 North

The fine art of friendship and re-re-re-learning to make time for it

Art should speak to us and this messy piece has a message.
Art should speak to us and this messy piece has a message. Columnist

It had been a long time. Too long. That’s common, right? I’ve said, “It’s been too long; I missed you” in every friendship I have.

It’s always too long. But ... life.

Kids.

Work.

House, church, extended family ... life gets in the way and we spend more time planning to see our friends than we spend together.

There’s a group of women that I’ve been friends with for about 10 years. There was a time, the honeymoon stage of this group friendship, that we had a standing lunch date on the 12th of every month. But the 12th of every month became the 12th of a month with lots of months in between and then ... life.

It’s not that we didn’t want to see each other, it’s just that making the time became less important as our friendships became more solid. We didn’t need bonding time, because we had already bonded. We didn’t need to create lots of memories together because we already had a lot, and if we could communicate electronically every day through texting or a social media group page, it would have to suffice.

It was good enough.

A few months ago, Karen suggested a meet-up, but we couldn’t agree on a day and dropped the idea.

She brought it up again last month and gave us a link to an event on a specific time and day. My first inclination was rote, it’s what I do whenever I’m asked to do something fun: look for reasons not to go rather than reasons to go.

But then Sally signed up.

Then Other Susan signed up.

A few of us had to wait and see family calendars, and two of us are far away so they didn’t even pretend that they could go.

And me? My brain was screaming half a dozen reasons why I shouldn’t go, but my mouse-clicker finger was acting otherwise and a few minutes later, I was fiscally committed to paint a faux-Monet while sipping wine with my friends.

I don’t play Bunco. I don’t belong to an in-person book club. I don’t do home sales parties — ever. And I felt I was missing some suburban mom cred, because I had never been to a wine-and-painting night.

Now, I have. It was fun. It was goofy, crowded, loud and addictive, even though my family all asked, “What is that? Spaceships?” when I proudly propped my messy water-lily painting by the fireplace.

My life-lesson takeaway from the night was re-re-re-learning that it’s important to make the time for the people that I care about, amount of effort be damned.

Two days later, my painting still by the fireplace, I was on the same social media site where my painting pals’ private group is and learned that a friend I hadn’t made time for in a very long time had died.

We saw each other at our kids’ events but mostly kept connected through Facebook. I knew where her kids went to school, where she had gone on vacation a few weeks ago, that she loved her sister and had lunches with work friends.

What I didn’t know was what she didn’t tell me, what she didn’t tell a lot of people. I didn’t know that she had an illness that would, one chilly spring day, lead to her death.

Good enough wasn’t good enough.

Would I have known if she was one of the women I was painting swirly, circle-ish lily pads with? Maybe. Maybe not. But I could have said, “It’s been too long. I miss you.”

But now I can’t. And I do.

Make the time.

Friendships are both a gift and an art. They require patience and work to create and maintain, but even the messy ones are exquisite.

Susan Vollenweider lives in the Northland. To listen to the women’s history or historical media recap podcasts that she co-hosts or to read more of her writing visit www.thehistorychicks.com or www.susanvollenweider.com.

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