Dear Reader, or dear Friend, if I am lucky to know you as such:
Many a study show that social connection is one of the best predictors of longevity and aging well. I think about this often when I meet homeless people–it is so striking how alone they are. In those moments, as I feel their loss, I find myself giving thanks for all the relationships in my life.
Having recently transplanted to New York, a city I love but that is vast and crowded and permeates with loneliness and weariness, I marvel at the lovely people who populate my life. Friends do not often magically appear. In a new city, we have to go out and meet strangers, and, when we are lucky, they slowly become acquaintances, then friends. Really, this is a process we can repeat over and over in life. It can be a struggle, or a challenge–the end product, though, is always a joy. But make no mistake, as everything worth doing, it takes work.
Getting to know new people requires opening up, a willingness to being vulnerable and risking a little piece of our heart when people might reject us. The rewards when someone steps into our own inner circle are special.
Some matches are natural, some take longer, some go deep, some stay superficial. Sometimes we are the older wiser friend, sometimes the younger inexperienced one. I find that all of these relationships matter.
It is nice to say hello to the cashier at the corner store and know that she recognizes me. We don’t have to be best friends. It is lovely to meet someone for lunch and talk about politics or work. And then, sometimes, we spend time with someone who really gets us, and then we can let our hair down, slowly but surely. In every encounter, we have to evaluate how much to trust, but we also have to be aware of our bias, set aside our own assumptions. Exposing ourselves, we have to listen to the new person intently, with curiosity and without judgment.
People say that I appear to never have met a stranger. The secret, for me, is to remember that every time I meet someone I have something in common with that person: we both were born, and we both shall die. Life is what happens in the middle. (And, of course, if you are a Wellesley woman, we share a little something extra!) Then it’s all about finding some common ground. When we are blessed, that common ground is fertile and a new friendship blossoms.
And so we layer our lives with friends. Some are friends of circumstance: they are with us at a particular time of our lives. But some are friends of the heart. We may have walked away from each other, but sometimes our paths converge again. We meet as adults. We know each others’ secrets, our pains, but also our deep joys. We have watched ourselves move through life–touched by love, marriage, kids, divorces, death, heartbreak, accomplishment, failure–and we have been true witnesses to each others’ lives. We have embraced each other and we have shed tears of joy and grief.
When all is said and done, these friends and those we will continue to make for the rest of the journey, will not just help us age well, they will be what gives meaning to our life, what connects us to the best of humanity. They will be there for us, in thought and in action.
I salute you, my friends of the heart and friends of circumstance. Your presence in my life is a blessing.
Life is Amazing! Live well.
(A special thank you to Johna, who introduced me to the concept of friends of the heart and friend of circumstance when we were still in high school!)