I just finished reading Joy for Beginners by Erica Bauermeister, which is about how a group of women support and help each other through changes in their lives - divorce, death, cancer, the birth of twins. I was really touched by how they formed a tight circle around each other and didn't let go. It was gently and beautifully written.
I have not always appreciated the value of friendship or how vital it is to our well-being. I grew up with lots of acquaintances and people to hang out with, and cousins everywhere I turned. But when I was fifteen, I left high school early and went to university, and suddenly I was surrounded by peers who were not really peers - these people were primarily grad students, married, with kids. I had pigtails and braces and a curfew. I could no longer relate to kids my own age, who were caught up in proms and drama and high school football games. But I couldn't relate to these older students either, whose lives and concerns seemed so different from mine. So I became quite solitary, more than I ordinarily was. I spent all my time with books, isolated, where I was comfortable. Social interaction was painful to me. I married my husband partly because he didn't make me date him.
I married at nineteen and went straight from Mom and Dad's house to his. He was and is my best friend in the world...but to the exclusion of other friends for many years. I knew lots of people, but there was no one I'd get together with, no one to talk to but him. The few female friends I felt closer to didn't seem as interested as I was in keeping in touch. Things were compounded when we moved to Canada where I didn't know a soul, far from my sisters, where the only people to interact with were co-workers and fellow church members, who - for the most part - had very different backgrounds and languages from mine. We were friendly toward each other, but there was always a reluctance on my part to get too attached, to put myself out too much. I saw people as transitory and unreliable. I did make one good friend through my work, but he turned out to be unhealthy, and he ended up betraying me horribly. In the end I had to cut off association with him to preserve any shred of self esteem.
And then three women entered my life, quite by accident, through the band we all belong to. Instantly they drew me into their circle and made me feel I had sisters again. It was unquestioning and determined on their part. I still can't fathom why they like me - but I sense they do. They don't seem to notice my social awkwardness, my tentativeness. They just haul me along with them, including me, loving no matter what, and I can feel myself begin to thaw and expand and warm under their influence. I have my own circle I can rely on now, and I would do anything for any of them. Their happiness is vital to me. I don't understand it, but I am beginning to trust it. And I'm beginning to experience for myself the importance of friendship, of breaking out of isolation, of letting joy in.