When I was fourteen I attended a Catholic youth club run by the local church. The parish priest, whose name sadly escapes me, was one of those rare adults that could reach out and connect very directly with young people. He introduced me to fell walking, and more specifically, to the glories of the Lake District which is one reason I am sad that I can’t recall his name. Another reason is that he influenced my thinking quite profoundly on a number of topics. One of them was friendship. We used to have this discussion group that met at the youth club to talk about all manner of moral and Christian values. One particular week he led us all blindly down a false trail by asking us one by one how many friends we had. The answers ranged from about ten to fifty (fifty was probably claimed by the unfathomably pretty blonde girl that I was obsessing about at the time). Of course we had all fallen into his trap and he went on to explain the difference between casual friends and true friends. He pointed out that anybody who could claim more than a couple of true friends was rich beyond measure. Of course, he also didn’t know that Facebook would change the whole discussion.
We were very young and hadn’t even had time to make what are often called lifelong friends and I am not in touch with a single one of those ‘friends’ from that period. (No, I never did date that blonde). Now, with all my many years of experience I can count comfortably on one hand my close friends, and as for friends that would drop everything and come running should I need them then it is probably even fewer. That’s OK, I think we need a balance of true soul mates, friends and acquaintances to juggle with in our busy lives. Cycling, amongst other things, has brought me all three.
Yesterday I had a great ride with friends, some of whom I see very regularly and some not so often. The fact that the frequency at which we meet seems not to make a jot of difference to the amount of pleasure I get from being with them is important. You know a friend is really special when it makes no difference at all that you haven’t seen them for months or even years. When you can just carry on exactly where you left off after so long apart is a great indicator of the depth of the friendship in my experience.
I recently thought I might have lost a very special friend for good. It turned out to be a simple misunderstanding and failure of communication and I am delighted that we have cleared it up. I know that after not seeing each other for more than two years, when we do get together again it will seem like five minutes since the last time. There will be a great deal of silliness and unhealthy quantities of ale and red wine will no doubt be involved. Oh, and maybe a hug or too. She’s good at hugs.
Which finally brings me around to why I started this post. You see our round Britain cycling trip is having an amazing tendency to get us back in touch with old friends, to bring us together with current ones and to start the process of making new ones. This weekend we are making the journey to Gloucester to make sure we see members of Gill’s family before we set off and next weekend we are getting together with all our local friends for a bit of a do to send us off. On our route around the coast we plan to meet up with friends, some of which I won’t have seen for thirty years and also to liaise with at least one person who I have only ‘met’ through social media. When we get back from our travels, friends have even kindly offered us living space while we find our feet once more. It all feels wonderfully enriching. There is something about the nature of what we are doing that seems to draw people in. The sense that they want to be a part of it is heart warming and very special. By the end of all this Gill and I could have hundreds of new friends. So eat your heart out blondie!
I feel very rich at the moment.
P.S. Phone that friend that you have been meaning to for the last few weeks, months or years. Go on, do it now.