Many winters ago, my friend Joanne and I took lunch-time walks around a little lake near the office where I worked in the East Bay. We chatted and marveled at the early blooms and sunny days in January, a phenomenon she and I dubbed California’s “Early Fake Spring.”
During those walks, unbeknownst to her, Jo taught me the art of making a new friend.
She’s Australian and was living in the East Bay at the time. Our husbands worked together. She had to make new friends every time she and her husband moved, and clearly she had developed her own sweet process of it. Up to then, I’d made friends by simply meeting people I liked at work, college or whatever, then became friends with them. Happenstance is what brings friends together, but there’s something more conscious that allows a true friendship to grow.
I took notice of Jo’s thoughtful approach to making a new gal-pal: setting up coffee dates, suggesting walks, then evenings out with the husbands, eventually trips out of town to Tahoe or Yosemite. But she also remembered certain things about me, took an interest in things I was interested in. And I followed suit, taking interest in her nieces and nephews back home, the books she was reading, cooking. We gradually shared personal stories and struggles, trusting they would be kept between us. I don’t know how to describe it really, and maybe it’s a given to most of you, but I realized for the first time that the path toward a new friendship is sacred and beautiful in and of itself.
Since then, I’ve approached the process of making new friends consciously, moving slowly, building trust, holding secrets with care, like a tender beating heart. I’m not perfect at it, if there is such a thing. But I don’t take it lightly, that’s for sure.
Since those January walks, I also learned to look at my existing friendships as precious living things, to be cared for, kept in the sunlight, and nurtured. That way, inevitable absences or unavoidable misunderstandings are nothing a cup of tea and a hug can’t fix.
Luckily, before I moved to Sugartown, I’d learned from Jo that making new friends is something you could enjoy more if you do it consciously. When we first arrived, I was lucky to meet some lovely friends right away, but after that, I got sick and didn’t have a chance to meet new people. But over the years, even during treatment, I’ve been able to meet pretty remarkable women: a couple through the chemo room, one at soccer practice, one at gymnastics, another at a mother’s club meeting, and now that little J is in Kindergarten, a few more through school. Thanks to Jo and what I’ve gleaned from her artful friend-making, I’m enjoying making new friends in this town. And I’m content to take each friendship slowly. Letting it flower.
Eight years on from those January walks with Jo, we are currently experiencing another California “Early Fake Spring.” A few days ago, I clipped some branches from Heather’s quince tree and from the next door neighbor’s apple tree. I smashed the roots and put them in a pot of warm water. I’ve never tried to “force blooms” as it’s called, but was inspired this year to do it. And now I’m off to prune the roses, cut them back to stalks and clear away anything that’s choking those roots. It’s sunny today, but “Fake Spring” will end, and we’ll be back in the clutches of winter and its too-cold fingers soon enough. I’ll have blooms indoors and roses that are ready for the next wave of cold.
Write down the names of your dear friends today, and draw a heart around each one. Think of something sweet about them. They will feel it, I swear.
In fact, I have to tell you, Joanne contacted me from Australia, just as I was writing this post this morning and said, “Can we have a Skype call?” I kid you not. And we have not been in touch for a while.
The love we feel for our friends is alchemical. We can change them and ourselves with our sweet thoughts. We can bring blooms in winter, create a fake spring any time of year. Here’s thinking of you.