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July 28, 2020

The Importance of Friendships

July 30 is Friendship Day. Wikipedia says the idea of World Friendship Day was first proposed by Dr. Ramon Artemio Bracco of Paraguay on 20 July 1958 and became an extremely popular celebration in many South American countries. Today, it is more widely known thanks to social media.

I’m glad that there is a Friendship Day. A great deal is made of Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Children’s Day, Valentine’s Day, and other days I do not know about. But the value of friendship is grossly underestimated.

I am a friend person. In that, I like to be a friend and to have friends.

Growing up in India, I had many friends, mostly through school. We exchanged little gifts, wrote in each other’s autographs and whispered into each other’s ear. Secrets, only between us. I also had a best friend all the way through school. We had a bit of a falling out right before we graduated, over something silly I cannot remember. But there were others in my circle of friends, also special because of who they were and what they brought to my life.

Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born. Anais Nin

I was encouraged to have friends, near and far.  It was common in the 50s to have pen-pals. As the word suggests, they were friends we wrote to. And they wrote to us. By pen. Mine were as far away as New Zealand, UK and Japan. I still remember the excitement of seeing an air-mail envelope with my name on it delivered by the postman to our home. A letter from a faraway land, so strange and different, and yet not. I wrote about my life and they wrote about theirs.

Some of my school friends traveled to college with me and then we went our separate ways. We wrote to each other off and on, but it tapered off. New relationships came into our lives, with new preoccupations. Thanks to Facebook, some of us are reunited over the last several years, after years of separation. There have been careers, marriages, divorces, second marriages, children, grandchildren, retirements and of course, deaths. Our paths have been diverse, and we have all become quite different people.  We are scattered all around the world.

I spent about two decades outside India, in the US and Italy and developed strong friendship networks, especially in the US. Friends I made in college, in shared homes and workplaces. Friends who took me, a foreign student and a stranger into their homes, families and hearts.

Back in India in 1990, I am still in touch with several of those friends in the US. Some came to my son’s wedding last year. Two dear friends came from Amsterdam. New friendships formed along the way, some deep, some transient.

Good friendships thrive on communication.

Keeping in touch with friends is a challenge. The good old letter writing days are replaced by email and the Internet, WhatsApp and Skype, and now Zoom and other ways to connect. Every now and then, my friend of 40 years, Agnes from Amsterdam, sends me a letter or a post card, when she sees something that reminds her of our friendship. Seeing her strong and upright handwriting on an envelope or the post card makes me smile and cherish the fact that she takes the time to connect, in this way.

Virtual friends take on a special meaning too. In 2012, on Facebook I shared I was having an eye surgery in 2012, and there was a flood of messages in support and care. I was terribly touched. I had two subsequent surgeries over the last two years and as before, felt very supported by the posts. I like the fact that I can be a part of their FB and real lives and they of mine, even though we know it is vicarious. But it is a relationship, nevertheless.

Friendship is sitting across a friend over a cup of tea or coffee or a drink. Walking in a park, window shopping or watching a movie. Discussing books, politics, whatever turns us on and that we want to share, because in sharing lies the joy. It’s a phone call. The more we share, the closer we are. Some friends move onto a back burner and others disappear. And that is OK too. Sometimes, they re-appear. That’s all right too.

Friendship has shaped me. It has stretched me.  Its inspired me to cook, bake and make art for my friends.  Sometimes visiting friends buy my art and I get a warm feeling thinking how my artwork sits in their homes, be it in the US, Ireland, Australia and India. Their gifts over the years adorn my home, reminding me of them. Even their left luggage in my basement gives me a warm fuzzy feeling, knowing that wherever they are – in the US, Sweden and China, I have a piece of them in my home. And heart.

My friends and I evolve and change. We try and keep up with each other. Sharing good or bad news with a close friend is a moving experience. Listening to each other strengthens our bond. I have been nurtured by friends in good and bad times.

I cannot imagine a life without friends.

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