Some things collided this year to propel me to ponder the meaning of friendship and to reconnect with friends of the past.

One of those things was pulling my box of college letters out of the attic. I’ve dug through them in the past, collected letters from friends, and packaged them up as special birthday presents.  After all, the letters are part of the writer’s history.  I especially wanted to gather my mom’s letters as a gift to her for Christmas.  At first I had planned to scan them in, but to save time I placed them in sleeves.  I read them as I loaded them.  She wrote almost weekly.  She sure missed me.  They are a treasure.  She was moved when she opened it at Christmas and couldn’t believe I had saved them all these years.  

I thought about the lost art of letter writing and how history won’t be preserved in this unique way.  Do we save texts? I suppose our Facebook and Instagram posts may live on in perpetuity, but it’s not quite the same. A letter is tangible. The words seep into your soul when you are holding a letter.  My son’s Christmas gift to me, a note written on a piece of work letterhead, made me cry.

Even my clients will send me beautiful cards with kind words of appreciation for my work.  I simply can’t part with these.

This dive into my past occurred at a time when I received a surprise call from an old college friend.  He makes “Cold Call Thursdays.”  I was absolutely floored by this idea!  I put him on speaker phone and Mike and I laughed and reminisced for at least an hour – trying to catch up on thirty years in a phone call.  I love that he picked up the phone to make a call.  Who does that anymore?  Texting is so convenient and you don’t actually have to TALK to anyone!  I’ve continued to receive a random Thursday call and I even surprised him with a cold call back!

Another group of fine ladies – my chemical engineering classmates, organized a zoom call during Covid.  It was so fun to catch up with them, spread across the country.

Perhaps it’s the busy-ness of our lives, we are tired at the end of the day; it limits our desire to call and chat with people.  We make pre-phone-call texts.  “Hey, can I give you a call?”  “Can we set up  a time to talk?”

My college roommate and I became wonderful friends.  We lived together every year except when she studied in Italy.  During the first few post-college years we saw each other at weddings and when kids came along we managed a visit to her home out-of-state and attended one of our reunions together with our families.  As time passed, we simply saw each other at our college reunion every five years.  We stayed in a dorm room together and attempted to sleep on those old beds and talked and talked like we were college girls again.  It didn’t matter that five years had passed.  But she’s not on Facebook, we don’t write letters and we don’t talk on the phone.  That didn’t seem to matter to our friendship.  But Covid came and ruined our 35th reunion.  So one day, I texted her and asked about setting up a phone call.  She texted back and, ironically, we continued our conversation via texting and never did set up the phone call.  I learned that her husband had passed away two years prior.  I was shocked, sad for her, but also felt like a terrible friend that I did not know her husband died!

A few days ago, I missed a FaceTime call from her but I FaceTimed her back.  She laughed and said she butt-dialed me.  That amused me, but we took a few minutes to catch up and I even got to talk to her mom.  My friend is retired now and invited us up to her lakefront home this summer.  I am going to make that happen.

Why?  Funerals.  We’ve attended quite a few lately.  One was a high school friend of my husband’s.  It reunited several of his classmates who mourned the passing of their friend and we all lamented that they hadn’t seen him in a long time.  For us, that was especially painful, because he lived close to us.  We parted with hopes to “get together soon.”  My husband was determined to make that happen with his friend who was now only three hours away from us.  I urged him to make plans because time slips away too easily.  So we did – we met them halfway for dinner and had the opportunity to catch up on about thirty years and it feels just like old times.  Even if we don’t see them often (and even if we see each other on Facebook) I know that we WILL see them again soon.

Life is busy.  Weekends fill up quickly, especially with family events.  And, often, we are too tired to plan much during the week.  So if a friend reaches out, or I reach out to a friend, like I did with two old friends just before Christmas, I let them know I’ll put a reminder on my calendar to set something up.  So in January, I set up a day to meet an old high school friend.  We took a hike and then went to the local coffee shop.  Recently, we met an old college friend and her husband for dinner.  We could have talked all night!  She even brought a list of topics that she wanted to talk about!  That was smart!  We are hoping to get together quarterly!  It takes effort – and time.  Mostly time.

I  consider myself blessed to be surrounded by loving family members – my mom, siblings, my kids, their spouses, my granddaughter, my nieces and nephews, cousins.  And family members are automatically friends.  They are always there.  They will always be your family, no matter what.

Similarly, I am blessed to have friends.  But this past year, with letters, cold calls, butt dials, and funerals, I have considered what it means to be a friend.  Am I a good friend?  Does it depend on proximity? I have all kinds of different friends.  It might be the Tuscan Dinner group that I see several times a year.  Or the couple that we regularly see – even if it’s every few months.  One friend was like a “little sister” to me when I was in high school and she in grade school.  We wrote many letters over the years.  I think I have seen her only two or three times in the past 40 years.  She’s a busy mom of six that lives about three hours away.  We stayed in touch via our blogs and, more recently, via texting.  She’s had so many struggles in recent years, including a current second round of aggressive cancer.  So we text and chat about mom worries and family things.  For cancer patients, I think, cancer defines you.  When we chat, she is just my friend.  I decided to write her a letter one day, because I wanted to let her know how I value her friendship.  How do I know she is my friend even though we haven’t seen much of each other or talked on the phone? I don’t recall my words to her anymore.  But since we met when she was a young girl – probably a second grader – she grabbed my heart right away.   As I watched her become a young, beautiful woman, and then an adult and mother, we shared many things in common.  And, somehow, I just know that she is my friend.

I am not opposed to social media.  It helps us share information.  It enables us to connect to old neighborhood friends, grade school, high school and college friends, old work friends….  I have even made friends via social media.  It started with Etsy and blogs, then Twitter, and now, mostly, Instagram and Facebook.  I have never met these friends but we comment, chat, email and, generally, connect through shared interests and I value their friendship.

As I have encountered my friends this year, especially those experiencing health issues, many have said they wish they could feel normal again.  One, facing the hope for a transplant for her husband, knew that there was no going back to their old life.  I have pondered this as well.  As I age, will this new ache become part of my daily life?  How do I accept the changes? Will I always long for my old life or accept each day as a gift?  At the recent funeral, the woman who had suddenly lost her husband, through her tears, reminded us to love each other.   It seems cliche, but it is a reminder. 

Through these letters, cold calls, funerals and even butt dials, I am reminded that I am blessed. Surrounded by family and friends and reconnecting with old friends has made me keenly aware of the gift of time spent with them, even if it has been years since our last encounter.  I continue to ponder what it means to be a friend but in doing so I hope that I have lived up to all that it means.

Life’s too short.  That’s my daughter’s motto, and also why she and I went to the Marble Room for our book club – one of the finest restaurants in Cleveland.  (And she paid, so why not?)   Make those plans to get together with old – and new – friends! Take a hike, go out to dinner, hang out in the driveway. Write a letter.  Maybe – just maybe – even try picking up the cell phone and dialing your friend’s number.  You won’t regret it.