What is it really that makes us friends? Is it long-term exposure to one another, our backgrounds, characters, where we come from, what we do for each other, or maybe when our souls connect? When you put people together in the same place and time, affections can grow and familiarity soar to the point of life and death. But often we feel not this connection’s strength until the place and time no longer bind us. The pain that separation initially brings usually grows weaker and weaker with time. It follows the same path of nascent affection and familiarity just in reverse, seeking comfort in new connections, mundane distractions, or perhaps believing in out of sight, out of mind.
Recently my dear friend Lisa retired and our common workdays are no more. On her farewell day, a low-key affair, we ate her cake, we said our speeches, and shared stories. Lisa unwrapped her presents with tears. And then she walked out the door just as she did every day for the past six years, only this time without saying, “See you tomorrow”. A feeling of sinking sadness grew and held sway over me for a moment or two. The door opened, and in came Lisa rushing to her old desk, all eyes on her, she looked around, and rescued her good old umbrella from being left behind! Everyone laughed. This encore of Lisa toppled our thoughts of gloom, and disrupted back-to-work looks and life-goes-on platitudes. A smile and a heart full of joy I felt the second time Lisa walked out the door that day. I did not think of whether I’d see her tomorrow anymore. I knew we’re still in the same place and time. We’re in the same town. We’re of the same mind.
What a difference a perspective shift can make. Instead of feeling sad, I was glad. I was glad that Lisa had left, knowing that she was there to stay. I was glad I’d lived, worked, and learnt with my friend, who is no more around every day to share her beliefs or roll her eyes at shocking statements people would make. Our pastimes continue through what awaits us next.
Lisa and I used to share a day job. Our considerable age gap convinced me friendships are timeless and ageless. We understood each other’s thoughts, frequently unspoken, and seldom explained. Our ongoing commentary on life’s higher purpose, the clockwatching culture, and human nature often felt like a valve must feel to a jet of steam. Lisa would not tolerate fools, as she called them. A term I thought too harsh at times. But I knew where she’s coming from and was grateful for the lessons she’d taught me. Drizzle or shine outside, our connection always felt fresh. Even without her around, I still run grammar and spell check.
I believe that every friendship counts. Every encounter is a reason. ‘Exeunt’ is never a goodbye. Our souls may or may not connect, we may have a common purpose or views, our woes or joys can be the glue, and yet it’s what we make of it all that matters in the end. There is no end in the end. Friendships go on. Because everyone makes part of who we are and who we become through our shared time and place.
On the morning of Lisa’s farewell I patched together a poem, a few rhymes, far from sublime, which brought smile and tears out at the same time. In that sad and happy moment I realised that in life relationships count far more than style.
I feel joyous and happy to say
My friend Lisa is leaving;
I thought I’d be weeping today,
Instead my heart is singing.
I’m singing my thanks to Lisa
For filling my days with warmth,
For one apple a day, Mr Scruff’s refrain,
And all the goss from King St Wharf.
You’re leaving, Lisa, but forever
You’ll stay part of who I’ve become,
In you I found a true friend, a teacher,
A role model bar none.
Many a year ahead of us yet,
To seek and explore in laughter and smiles,
Whatever tomorrow means to us all
I’m grateful for Lisa in my life.
For one apple a day because Lisa used to leave one apple each weekday morning for me at my desk; every Monday I would buy five apples and give them to Lisa for ‘safekeeping’ and a ‘reasonable’ allocation of one per day (which does keep the doctor away!);
Mr Scruff’s refrain refers to Mr. Scruff’s Ninja Tuna song, which everyone can find in their ‘My Music’ folder under sample music included with Windows 7 operating system; Lisa would set up a reminder on her PC which would come up every hour and play this tune as our cue to do some stretching exercises around the office;
And all the goss from King St Wharf – Lisa would catch a ferry to work every day, which terminates at King St Wharf in Sydney; these commutes proved to be an endless source of anecdotes Lisa would recount about what she’d seen or overheard, what oddities people would get up to just to get a seat during peak hour, and how in the ‘good old days’ things were different.