I was recently entrusted to read a friend’s memoir about coping with his wife’s major unexpected health crisis one year into their marriage. Spoiler alert - she survived, they remain together, and her recovery continues to make strides three years later.
My friend describes, among many other things, the experience of being disappointed by friends he considered intimates who seemed to recede from view when he most needed their support. Several of these friends shared long histories of having been available when he needed them (and vice versa) during earlier stages of life, but then dropped off the map. There are many possible explanations/excuses, but none of them matter. The friendships are over.
I have no comparable experience, but I can recall more than a few friends who were meaningfully present for me in a particular moment of need, only to flame out and fall to the wayside over the long haul.
Maybe you can recall someone who was available for you when you really needed the support: talking you through a painful breakup, helping you devise plan B when your career strategy faltered, or teaching you how best to make amends when you hurt someone you cared about. Maybe they taught you how to forgive yourself and move forward. These are real gifts they bestowed.
Over the years, my standards for friendship have risen substantially. You must be as tall (invested, considerate, thoughtful) as this sign to make it to my inner circle, which I keep deliberately tight around me. I’m reluctant to join facebook because I don’t need to be in touch with the nice shy dude who sat behind me in math in the 7th grade. As a result, the friends I spend the most time thinking about are those I have, not those I’ve had.
I usually spend Thanksgiving reflecting on those who remain firmly entrenched in my world of family and friends. I still plan to make space to appreciate them.
This year, I’m going to alter my practice of gratitude. I’m going to make the effort to recall those who gave me that thing I most needed and then disappeared, never to return. The ding dong ditch gift-givers who made a one-time present of companionship, or confidence, or self-knowledge, and then took off running. And even if I later mourned their abrupt disappearance; if it stung a little bit of rejection or complacency or lack of effort; I’m going to try to appreciate them for their gift.
I think my world might become better if I can eventually learn to separate the giver from the gift. In our natural state we are full of contradictions, ambivalence, and frailty. It would be nice to be able to receive generosity without suspicion. To think even the deeply flawed individual can have moments of insight (redemption?) and make a contribution to another person’s well-being.