“When you’re my age, you don’t lose your friends because they move away–you lose them because they die.”
I started off 2013 with a heavy sense of guilt; it was so strong, I felt it in the pit of my stomach for several months whenever I thought of the person I had wronged. In late 2012, I unknowingly made a friend upset with an innocent comment, “I just heard your temp job ended. How is your job search going?” My concern was mistaken for arrogance because I asked the question at the wrong time and the wrong place. Without going into the debate of who was wrong or right, the bottom line was that I had offended and upset someone I cared about. I had known this friend for a couple of years, and I had known her to be fair, clear-headed, and mature, so her reaction came as a shock to me.
You may wonder why I was wrecked with guilt for upsetting someone I had only known for a short time. While my parents were the cause of my depression, anxiety, faulty relationships, lack of self-esteem, and a myriad of other issues that sent me in and out of therapy for most of my twenties, my friends were the ones who kept me alive, helped me through all the broken hearts, and stood by me as I pondered all the crossroads in my life. My family also moved several times when I was younger, forcing me into new schools and making new friends each time. So although life may get in the way, I place a lot of value on my friendships and I invest a lot of effort in building strong relationships with those who care to do the same. The strongest friendships are the ones that can pick right back up even if we haven’t seen each other in months or even years.
Although I apologized to my friend over email (I didn’t call for fear of her wrath), she didn’t seem willing to accept my apology and, instead, responded with a scathing email. One of her arguments against me was that I did not stay in touch with her for half the year, and that made me a stranger to her. I drafted a reply with another heart-felt apology for everything she laid out. However, my intuition and well-meaning friends told me not to send the email and to let it go. And so I did.
It only got easier to get over the heavy sense of guilt for that one person as the year went on and I lost more people I loved to old age and sickness. In May, Ray Fifer, one of my favorite people from my Semester At Sea experience passed away. In July, we lost Kyle’s dad, Bruce Chase. In October, my Uncle Gan Jon Chin, died from a heart attack after complications from surgery. At Thanksgiving, although I had Kyle by my side and we were celebrating with friends, surrounded by more food than one can fathom, I could not come up with one single thing to be thankful for. It was the first time in a long time I struggled to count my blessings. When I told Kyle how I felt, I expected him to feel the same. Instead, he said, “There are a lot of things to be thankful for!” His optimism surprised me, but most of all–I admired and envied his resilience.
As Christmas came around, I went about my annual Christmas activities: writing and sending cards, shopping for gifts, and catching up with colleagues, friends, and family. As I went through the motions, it became clear to me how my love for my friends and relatives have grown exponentially this year. The statement “When you’re my age, you don’t lose your friends because they move away–you lose them because they die” was spoken by Gretchen Fifer when I called her to see how she was doing after Ray passed. The words resonated with me and couldn’t be more true.
I am so thankful for my friends who would not take offense to a well-intentioned question. (As Bernard M. Baruch said, “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.”) I am so thankful for people who know me inside-out, even if we haven’t been friends for long. I am so thankful for friends who have a sense of humor and bring joy into not just my life but everyone else they know. I am so thankful for the people whom I’ve known for many years now, and we continue to stay in touch, even if it’s infrequent. I am grateful for my cousins with whom I might not always see eye-to-eye or have a lot in common, but they are my surrogate siblings. I’ve heard that we can’t choose our family, but I disagree.
2013 reminded me that life is short (as cliché as it sounds). Since I was a teenager, I’ve had to learn multiple times to let go of people who are negative dead weights, but I got it hammered into me this past year. We have to recognize people who are not worth our time and energy, and to spend it on friends and family who are worth it.