One morning at breakfast, my sister and I talked about what we'd do if our spouses died; namely, would we stay put or would we move?
We both thought we would move. But then I thought about the friends I have in the area, and how far-flung my friend and family network has become. It's not like I could move back to one place and have everyone nearby.
Sometimes I feel like I don't have friends, but what I'm really feeling is the lack of time for the friends that I do have. Being with my grad school friends last month made me remember how much time we used to have to be together. We didn't have money, but we had time.
And the death of my old friend and department chair (see this post) has made me remember our old quilt group. We used to meet once a month to do our quilting, and occasionally, we'd do something special like a quilt show. Now we're lucky if we can get together once a quarter.
I'm hoping that her death will remind us that life is short, and we should try harder to see each other more often.
It's also good to remember the other networks I have: the people I see every day at the gym, the people at work who are more than colleagues but not close friends, my church. Would I leave them behind?
I've thought of the curious way that my definition of friend might change. I think of my friends at the gym. We've shared a lot, from medical crises (including the death of a child) to weight loss successes to more daily ups and downs. I don't know everyone's back story, but I've been going there for 5 years, so there's a connection that grows deeper. Aren't they friends?
I still have this idea of friendship left over from childhood and adolescence. A friend inspires a sort of passion. You trade every secret. You rely on them in good times and bad. You know that you can count on them, no matter what. They pass every test with flying colors.
My adolescent self expected that a true friend will have no faults; I confess to a lack of forgiveness coupled with high expectations that must have made me a difficult friend.
Now I try to approach my friends the same way I do my spouse. I know that a long-term friendship will have joys and disappointments and will require care and forgiveness and apologies.
I thought of my ideas of friendship and aging again, when a few weeks ago, I came across this review in The New York Times of New Life, No Instructions by Gail Caldwell. This quote in the review spoke to me: "And so it is this — her status as a never-married woman in her seventh decade, a growing demographic we still know so little about — that makes the book not only a pleasure to read, brimming with insights and wisdom, but valuable as well. Her crisis forces the discovery that the 'concentric circles of intimacy' she had been living within are actually 'a force field of connection,' in which those so-called lesser bonds — 'neighbors and dog people and rowers and writers and A.A. people and women from the gym' — prove as durable as family. That she’s made her home in the villagelike city of Cambridge, Mass., where she’s on a first-name basis with half the people on her block, has something to do with it. So does solitude itself, which 'makes you stretch your heart — the usual buffers of spouse and children are missing, so you reach toward the next circle of intimacy.'”
Concentric circles of intimacy: I love that term. And I love the idea that these circles can be as durable as family.