I recently had the pleasure of catching up with an old friend who moved away when we were both young.
Our families remained in contact, and as a result so did we through the years, seeing each other at staggered and unpredictable intervals every six or seven months.
Even though our lives naturally took different routes and twists, we remained solid friends, with the advent of e-mail, Bebo and MSN in our early teens, enabling us to stay in more regular and consistent contact, albeit rarely face-to-face.
As such we now have the privilege of being able to introduce one another with the title of “one of my oldest friends,” a phrase I had previously never used, having thought it a cheesy and overly-emotive phrase reserved for American TV shows and chick flicks.
This time, however, after an absence of over a (fairly turbulent) year with only the odd Facebook or Snapchat message allowing us insight into the others’ busy and ever-changing life, it really hit home for me that this person has known me my entire life. Not only that, but she has stuck with me, an ever-present comfort for me to contact should the need arise, even if that contact consisted purely of a name on a screen.
Although we share none of the same friends anymore, and live completely different lives from the days we played knick-knack on the neighbours around the corner, it is reassuring to know there is always someone who will give honest and objective opinions about things that are going on in your life, even if it no longer has anything to do with them.
Going back to your roots and re-connecting with old friends, places, or even family you haven’t seen for a while really can help change the way you look at things.
For me, it succeeded in reminding me of how I saw certain things when I was younger, and particularly, how little panic is actually necessary in dealing with situations. (I tend to make a bigger deal than is required.)
The five-year-old Jenny did not care how many calories she ate in one sitting. She was just happy to be sitting there eating them. It made no difference to her what she looked like leaving the house—she was just happy to be going somewhere.
In returning to this childlike state of thinking—sinking below the heightened sense of responsibility, anxiety and guilt that comes automatically with being an adult—there was freedom. After my friend and I said our goodbyes, I genuinely felt like I was floating on a sugar-buzz from the bags of sherbert flying-saucers and 10-penny mixes we used to get in the shop down the road.
For anyone struggling to find themselves, or to establish a firm foundation on which to build your life, I urge you to first take a step backward and look at where you’ve come from; who you’ve grown from—that little boy or girl who got excited at the mere thought of a trip to the cinema or playground, who didn’t worry about the implications of such actions. Who didn’t worry about what people would say if they did or didn’t go to the party that night, or need to explain, apologise, and absorb mountains of guilt for making mistakes.
It was natural, that next step forward, to get up and go again in the morning. We didn’t question or dwell too long on the negatives. By lunchtime I was happy to see a packet of Iced Gems and carton of Ribena in front of me, and that was that.
Remembering the simplicity of it astounded me, but more so the realisation that we can access that purity again. The only difference is that we now have responsibilities—“expectations” to live up to, that have been placed there by ourselves, and a society that questions, with every shake of the hand, “So what is it you do?”
Usually this question is not borne of any genuine interest, and serves as a filler, begging a concrete answer with each new encounter. Heaven forbid you respond with a semi-confident “I write,” or “I play music” which has taken years of courage to undertake as a lifestyle—you’d be lucky to get an awkward nod of the head and an “Oh, fair play!”
What I’m trying to say is that meeting up with my old friend, and talking as if it hadn’t been almost two years since we’d seen each other, genuinely felt like the last few years of post-college confusion, floundering, and trying to establish myself as a human being hadn’t happened.
It reminded me that I’ve been me all along.
I’m still that child who chased a 50p bouncy ball around the garden for an evening—I just stopped enjoying the little things about taking the trip to get one; the excitement of wondering which one would come out of the machine outside Super Valu, and the delight when it bounced higher than I’d ever made it go before.
It reminded me that no matter where you go, who you meet, what friend-groups you become a part of, what sector you’re in, which new team you play for, or countries you travel to, you will always appreciate the first friends, family and experiences that shaped you as a child, where you grew your first roots and learned to stand tall by yourself.
It doesn’t matter if things get a little bit lost and mixed up along the way—some trees go years without any noticeable growth or change.
Each layer is built around the previous one, and is merely a reflection of what is actually contained inside. The reason your true self was so easy to access and embody as a child is because there were less layers to peel back to reach it.
As we grow and become more accustomed to the world, people, relationships, habits and experiences around us, these layers become thicker, more complicated, and ultimately harder to see and retreat back through. In knowing now that this inner strength still exists as strong as ever, with all these new layers which I see now are there to protect instead of mask it, there is a potential and energy so exciting that I can barely contain myself.
Author: Jenny Ní Ruiséil
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: McKay Savage/Flickr