We sat beside each other in Grade 9 Science class–not because we were magnetically drawn to each other–rather because our teacher had seated us alphabetically. With different family backgrounds and very different life experiences, we had little in common. Despite these differences, we became extremely close friends. At the end of Grade 12, she left for a career in the Armed Forces while I continued to Grade 13 and then to University. For the past forty years, we have never again lived in the same city – and often not the same country. Still our friendship has remained strong – never wavering, never fading– even though, at times, we have gone many years without seeing each other (and many of those years were pre-email, pre-Facebook and pre-social media of any kind)!
I just had the chance to spend time with Jo-Anne when she, and her husband, visited us on Vancouver Island this past week. Immediately upon her arrival, the years and distances vanished as if we had just been together yesterday. My heart leapt. We spent days talking, laughing, eating and shopping as if we were 14 year olds all over again. We shared our deepest secrets, snapped selfies and were comfortable in each other’s silences.
The benefits of strong, positive friendships have long been proclaimed. They nurture our deeply human need to share our life experiences. They support us and give us strength. In one study, participants stood at the bottom of a hill and were asked to estimate the steepness of the hill as they began to climb. When they stood alone, they believed the steepness of the hill to be much more extreme than when they stood with a close friend (source). Another study, from Harvard Medical School, discovered that the more friends women had, the less likely they were to develop severe physical problems as they grew older. The results of this study were so significant that the researchers concluded: “not having close friends or confidants was as detrimental to your health as smoking or carrying extra weight” (source).
Throughout my life, I have been blessed with many strong, incredible friendships. These friends have seen me through both good and tough times, have challenged me to be my best and have supported me when I began to waiver. I have known that they are right beside me even when they are not physically there. After getting to know some of my closest, long-time friends, my husband once commented how different they were than me – especially pointing out their relaxed, easy-going natures (ouch!). Opposites can attract…and in each of these cases I am glad that they stuck with me.
Recently I posted a blog on aging well. My goal is to follow the fundamental principles listed there. Maintaining strong friendships is at the top of my list. As friends are “the family that you choose” (Jess C. Scott), they grab the baton to go places with you that are reserved just for them.
I’d like to take this time to sincerely thank the friends who have so profoundly influenced me. Without them, the highs of my life would not have been as high (if they had existed at all), and the lows would have been unbearable. Without them…well, that is something that I simply do not wish to imagine.
Jo-Anne and me 44 years ago