I have been thinking a lot lately about friendships. When I was very young I had a few friends. But I wasn't what anyone would call one of the popular kids. I was entirely too shy for that distinction. I don't remember if our grade school had a clique of popular kids distinct from unpopular kids. I just know that even though I went to school with the same group of kids from kindergarten through ninth grade, there were very few that I counted as my close friends.
I was painfully shy, and maybe that was one drawback. I also felt very awkward in social situations. My father, on the other hand had such an easy social presence. No matter where we went he could strike up a conversation with just about anyone and within minutes it would be as if he had known that person for years. I was so much in awe of that ability. When I was in elementary school I was too timid to even ask for extra napkins at McDonald's.
I felt a little bit more at ease in middle school. By then I had a small group of friends that I knew I could count on to be loyal and "have my back" in any situation. We spent time together outside of school and got to know each other's likes and dislikes. We shared each other's joys and sorrows. It was these friends who helped me the most when my father died.
Sadly, for me it was this group of friends that I lost when my mother decided to uproot us and move away from all the memories of my father, first to Hawaii for the summer and then to Terre Haute to begin my Sophomore year in High School.
I was a new kid in a new school and all those shy feelings came flooding back. I had no support system except my sisters and brothers, and they were all dealing with the same sense of alienation that I was. I really had no idea how to make friends, or to be a friend when I first got to Terre Haute. I was miserably lonely most of the first two years of High school. I went to class with the "smart kids" because my grades were good, but I had no idea how to interact with them or how to break into their social circles.
One thing I did have was youth group at Church. Some of the kids in the youth group went to the Catholic high school which closed my junior year, and then they transferred either to my high school or the other one in town. I at least had my faith in common with the kids in the youth group, so there was a bond there I didn't have with the rest of the kids at school. But even as I senior in High School, I had no idea who I was.
Not knowing who I was probably explains why I couldn't decide on a major in college. I went to college because that is what people did after high school. I knew I wasn't going to work in an ice cream shop the rest of my life, so I registered for college on the local State University where I could live at home and go to school.
I stumbled through college not really knowing who I was. I was still that painfully shy kid, I didn't have many friends. I didn't know what I wanted out of life, except having some vague idea that I was supposed to be trying to please God.
It really isn't surprising to me that I don't have any close friends from high school and college. I must have been like a ghost back then. I wonder if people even remember me really from back then. I had no idea who I was, so how could I share what I didn't have with other people. I do know that there were people back then who were nice to me, but not in a lasting friendship kind of way. Through the amazing technology of Facebook I see my high school classmates who have remained close friends since we were in high school 30 years ago and even longer because they knew each other in grade school. In a way I am envious of having a friendship like that because it is something I have never had.
I have only been able to acquire close friendships like that in the last fifteen years or so. It wasn't until after I had my kids, and even to some extent after my mom's diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease that I really began to figure out who I am as a person. Now I have some very close friendships. I am able to give of myself, because I now understand that there is worth there to be given.
I suppose what I am trying to work out is, is this a skill that can be taught? Can I teach my children how to have lasting friendships when they are young so that they won't look back when they are nearing 50 (yes in less than two years I will be the big Five-Oh!) and wish they had made better connections when they were younger? Or is it just something that one has to be born with, a natural gift.
I suppose I will never know, and it really shouldn't matter. I should just cherish the friends I have. Like the woman I am having lunch with on Monday. Now she is a friend worth cherishing.