As November yawned to a close, my December is ushered in by holiday festivity, Christmas spirit, grey skies, and warm sweaters. It is that time of the year that I look forward to the most and the least, simultaneously.
For the end of the year brings up a unique sort of conundrum. As an obsessive list maker, I begin my hunt for gifts — holiday presents for the coming weeks, birthdays in the new year as well as surprise engagement, weddings, baby news, promotions, and all such possible celebrations — anew. In the course of this aimless wandering among shop aisles, is also a time when I pause and evaluate all the wonderful relationships I’ve cultivated (or unfortunately culled) over the year.
In general, I bring to my mind the various friendships I have enjoyed immensely over the past few months: the generous book lender, the one who is always ready for a cup of hot cocoa, the ones who love to eat, the one who loves to cook, the one I travel with, the one I cannot travel without, the ones that laugh with me, the one that laughs at me, the ones I make laugh, the ones who indulged in my mad excitement for the Fantastic Beasts movie and of course, the ones that love me but can’t stand me.
All of these pristine friendships are glazed with the memories of a rich spring or summer gone by and there is an unexpected heaviness in my heart.
As much as gratitude warms the soul, so does the silent, unwavering little fire in all our lavishly busy lives called friendship. We move from swing sets to matrimony in what seems like a matter of minutes and all the while buoyed by friendships that guided us through heartbreak, loss and finally, romantic success. This year, more than any other, I watched as entire friendship circles reunited to toast to a mutual friend’s wedding. I teared up a little as I heard another close companion had made a new home with an old love. All of these romances, unique and joyful, were being displayed as the reasons for all of us to celebrate. And I agree, with a clause.
It is in this holiday season that I get to commemorate this special relationship that we name as friendship. A bond that has no concrete start date for most and effortlessly extends forever. Neither punctuated by anniversaries nor a grand finale of marriage, friendship remains out of the spotlight. In the swirl of our lives, it is also often left behind, forgotten and often appears to have even vanished out of sight. It sits, dusty and old, adjacent to matrimonial bliss on the shelf of shared love. Yet, all it takes a single ‘Hello’ to bring it back to life. It flows between us, beneath us, omnipresent, yet hardly charging a heavy toll fee on the heart.
A few weeks ago, a dear friend complained that her lover (in a fit of justified tantrum that I will not explore here) had unthinkingly accused her of refusing to bend her plans with her friends for him. “Is that how it is?” she asked me, sorrowfully. “That our lovers and boyfriends take precedence over everyone else? It seems to me that the world behaves this way and perhaps I am an odd one.” I don’t believe she’s an odd one at all but if she is, she is an incredibly precious odd one. Thus in many ways, I believe I am blessed to be surrounded by friends who are as deeply invested in friendships as I am. Wherever I’ve lived or traveled, I’ve found a joyous group of people willing to pour love, time and their creativity in making special memories. We jostle each other around, pull each other’s legs, yet at the end of the day, they’re my safe space. More importantly, they help me survive winter.
It is for this very same reason that friendships are the hardest to let go of. There is no manual for mourning anywhere but even less so for the friendships that have been extinguished. Why, sometimes, you aren’t even aware of the fact that your friend has left your ship. This points to the incredulous individuality that is preserved in friendships. While we yearn for a oneness in romance, friendship allows a definite escape and comfort in being thoroughly different, orbiting in one’s own sphere of choices while still reaching out and loving the other. Thus, there is no gun shot or mic drop when a friendship ends. It ebbs away, losing its spark, with a lowering chance of being re-ignited. This, ultimately, makes it all the more difficult to mourn. You are left with a ghost of memories, a warm compress that has lost its heat and an ambiguous connection. “Oh yeah, she is my…I mean…was my…good friend…” you say, awkwardly.
As much as movies celebrate the grand gestures of love, books bring us the wholesome harmony of platonic companionship. Whether it is the very popular Harry Potter series or the classic Book Thief — each one illustrates the beautiful arc of friendship. I also have to add to this list the comic relief offered by newspaper strips’ most famous union : Calvin and Hobbes. Some friendships end up in romantic love but most others do not. The Book Thief, by far, has my most favorite fictional friendship : a little girl and a wounded soldier, amidst the terror of war, finding solace in talking about the sky and clouds. These stories remind us that friendships span from the sharing of intimate thoughts to the mundane ones. For the girl and the soldier, it was concurrently both. It was also one that could not be forcibly resolved as “romantic love” and that is a strange relief.
We have different types of best friends as well as different types of friendships. They’re more varied and naturally occurring than lovers. Much less celebrated and yet they’re the ones we keep with us forever — our hidden partners in life. We make merry, perform and gather applause on the stage of life but these friends are always behind the curtain — holding together our props. They allow us to take ourselves less seriously, and yet they are our most raucous group of supporters and cheerleaders. Over the many years, these friendships are transformed into families; families we will love, choose, keep and celebrate this holiday season.
I think I can celebrate friendship infinitely with my words but I will stop here. I have so much more to say but it is best said directly to my dear friends. For the rest of the world, you have my two cents. Wishing all of you a wonderful and magical year of friendships. :)