Side By Side

I had the lucky opportunity to visit with two of my grandchildren recently, a five-day immersion into chaos, a bit like Survivor but without the chance to win the immunity idol. They are busy boys, with an all-in attitude for living, with no self-preservation gene. There is only one speed – full throttle, until they run into something or fall. If we could harness that power, we could solve the energy crisis. I am in awe of their single-minded focus to have fun, with a little drama thrown in for good measure and to keep life interesting. Boys are a horse of another colour I whisper to myself from the perspective of being a mother of four daughters, four daughters who in hindsight were a breeze to raise. I had no issues with my girls – they were and are absolutely perfect. Only a mother can say such things. My grandsons play hard, and they sleep hard with a whole lot of mess in the middle. My girls played hard too, but I assure you there is a significant difference.

On this visit, I watched the boys play with friends, each with their “bosom buddy” as Anne of Green Gables so aptly referred in her definition of true friendship. I watched the dynamic of give and take, sometimes more take than give, but reasonably balanced. I listened to the whispered maneuvers of attack, their joint willingness and glee to repeatedly smell something within the realm of “disgusting”, and their total certainty they were not to blame for any accident or argument. The whole idea of friendship got me thinking.

Friendship is indeed a sacred space in one’s life. I don’t know at what age a child discovers someone outside the home who feels like family, family we choose for ourselves, those with whom we share our most profound secret such as preferring orange popsicles to green. Growing up on a farm maybe delays that connection until we are well into school days. I remember those early friends, some from school and some from junior choir at Knox United Church where Mrs. Zaback taught us about harmony and musicality, and she played the organ without looking, which was magic in my eyes. It is where I met Linda and I loved everything about her, the connection immediate. We were six. She was tall, I was short. She was an alto, and I was a soprano, and we sang Memories of Galilee every Palm Sunday for almost a hundred years, until she moved away when we were twelve, and I was certain I wouldn’t last a day without her. Yet here I am. A miracle of the highest order. She shared the best parts of herself with me – her willingness to laugh and play, her abundant musical talent, her exotic blue mascara covered eyelashes, and her grief at losing her mother to cancer at too young an age. I loved Linda in the way little girls love one another – completely. I would have sold my soul to give her back her mother if I could have. She was my first best friend and she set the bar very high.

Not all friendships last forever. We change as we grow up, both in our perspective and in our geography, but those early relationships teach us about ourselves, teach us about love from a child’s inherent innocence. I could easily make a list of what my childhood friendships taught me. Friendship in childhood is about giving and no one is keeping score. I have friends from childhood I seldom see and some I will most likely never see again, but their influence on me was profound; the treasure they represent to me is never lost but instead I am able to sit in the quiet and relive the hopscotch and skipping, the scrub baseball and marbles, the dodgeball and red rover games, knowing those memories represent my right of passage. Old friends remember when we were becoming who we are, without judgment when we faltered, when we got lost.

Covid has created an invisible but real barrier for many to gather freely with friends. And it has made us rely on technology to stay connected. We are fortunate to have the means to communicate but nothing warms our soul like a hug from a friend. Nothing makes us smile like we do when we hear that familiar laugh. An old friend is a rainbow on a cloudy day. We grew up side by side.