I recently spent some time with a friend I hadn’t seen in quite awhile. She has two sons, close in age to my own. When all four boys were small, the six of us spent quite a bit of time together.
She was the consummate organizer — always quick to suggest a new hiking trail, a field trip, an adventure. I was the overwhelmed small business owner and full-time mom who gratefully followed her lead, knowing my sons would never have slept under the stars on the balcony of a mountain cabin or hiked with llamas or rafted down the Colorado River if it weren’t for her.
As the boys grew, they pursued different interests, found different friends, grew in different directions. Though their tight connections unraveled, my friend and I stayed close.
But when her family moved to Portland, the frequency of our visits dropped dramatically. Sometimes I’d only see her once a year, when she came back during the winter holidays.
In December 2009 , I was getting ready to start up Piestewa Peak with my husband and my brother, who was visiting from Seattle. I turned around, and there was my friend. We hugged and made enthusiastic exclamations about how we should get together. I promised to call.
I never did. And I felt so guilty about it that I let many more months pile up, until it felt like the tie had perhaps been severed for good.
But I mourned the loss of this special friend, to whom I’d often confided my deepest thoughts and feelings, knowing that she would always be straight with me in her response. So on her birthday last week, I sent her an email. I told her that I missed her and that every time I was hiking in the desert, I thought of her.
Much to my delight, she responded immediately. Better yet, she was here in town! We made plans to get together for a hike.
When I met her at the trailhead, it was as if no time at all had passed. My sense of comfort with her was intact, untainted by the lapse of time. For the next hour and a half, we caught up on each other’s lives as we made a wide loop through the Phoenix Mountain Preserve.
When it was time to go, I told her how glad I was to have had the time with her. I apologized for the fact that my self-absorbed distractions made me such a bad friend.
Her reassurance was immediate. “I stopped judging friendships a long time ago,” she said. “When we cross paths, we cross paths. When we don’t, we don’t.”
She knows that real friendships have no room for societal conventions, unrealistic expectations or guilt. Real friendships just are.