When I finished university my favourite professor sat me down and talked to me about my shyness and his own. How being Department Head pushed him in ways that were difficult for him. How I would be pushed in similar ways and that I'd get better at it. He also told me about the relationships that matter over time. How few last. How many are about place and time.
I understood all he said, knowing its truth from many childhood moves. Watching only a handful of family friends withstand our constant address changes. Knowing that it was often the ones that felt most intense, most vital that often burned out once one seemingly small thing was disrupted.
I suppose now I'm finding that the friendships that endure are sometimes the unlikeliest. Occasionally, they've been ones that seemed almost peripheral to me, ambling along happily, a benign and constant presence. My professor, of course, was right about how few last. But I don't believe longevity should be a measure of worth when it comes to relationships. Some don't last. But still, they were formative, vital, glowing things.
Sometimes, I think that my own long-lasting friendships are as much a function of people's tenacity as anything inherent in our relationship. I often feel like the ones that stick are due to the other person’s refusal to let me drift away as I’m often inclined to. Maybe it's more mutual than that, a dedicated digging in from both sides at moments when a mutual letting go would be so easy.
Christmas always brings these reflections on friendships past. The not quite remembering of why things ebbed away. The uncertain feeling of regret and going over, that relationships could have been more, might have turned out otherwise. The feeling that something was got wrong, that it was let go too easily.
My therapist used to tell me that these things don't happen by accident. That people look for certain things at certain times. That relationships aren't, can't be, simply a matter of volition on one side. That they occupy the space between two people, shared by both but outside the control of either one, a magical synchroncity of wants and needs and attractions that sometimes wanes or expires or explodes. And one shift can throw off that chemistry. It can also evolve it.
It makes it seem so elusive, so unbankable. Which relationships will survive change and hurt, triggers of all kinds and limits being met. And why should time be a measure of success when we occupy so many moments in each other's lives, when we hold onto happy memories of each other long after the moment has passed.
We think that time measures worth in many things. We talk about people standing the test of time. But time isn't a test, it just is. And people changing in different directions shouldn't be about success or failure. Authenticity exists in moments, but it can change moment-to-moment, mutable and profound and yearning.
And, yes, at the end, only a handful of friends will have been there all along. But I won't think less of those who have come and gone. And, especially at this time of year, I treasure our memories and place candles in windows for each one to return to me, if only for a moment.