My hometown of Bainbridge, New York, is small. According to the most recent census, the population is approximately 3,000 people (of which 1,300 live in the village of Bainbridge). In a town like Bainbridge, everyone knows everyone else. I may not have appreciated growing up in a small community during my teen years, where I was one in a class of just 66 students, the youngest daughter of the manager of the grocery store. But things change as you mature, and now I am grateful I had the chance to grow up surrounded by a group of people who are my forever friends.
My forever friends have known me, quite literally, all my life. I met my best friend Stephanie at the summer playground program when I was three. Erin’s family moved across the street from my family when I was four. Sheri and I convalesced together when we both had the chicken pox in kindergarten. Rebecca, George, and I used to ride to and from religious education classes throughout elementary school. Allison volunteered to spend recess with me in third grade after I had surgery, and then was in almost every single class with me for the next 8 years. For most of high school, I saw the same friends all day as we moved from class to class.
After high school, some of us moved away for college and careers. Some stayed to make their lives in town. Though I no longer have daily contact with most of these friends, they are still the people I turn to when I need to be reminded of who I am. These are the friends who will challenge me if I say something out of line. They will question me if I appear to be acting out of character. They are quick to remind me of my importance in the world when I am facing difficult times.
This year I have come to recognize how much I value their presence in my life. During my hospitalization in January, their support and encouragement gave me the energy I needed to continue my recovery. Knowing they believed in my ability to endure fortified my resolve when the pain was too intense. Cards, emails, and letters seemed to appear whenever I was low and needed a lift.
When I was younger, the people who came back to town for their class reunions with their forever friends always seemed more mature than I currently feel. I always assumed they had life’s questions all figured out. I never imagined one day I would be the one going out to dinner with my school friends, laughing over memories, reminiscing over a meal and drinks on a summer night.
But that is exactly where I found myself on Saturday. Last weekend I gathered with some of my forever friends to commemorate 25 years since our high school graduation. Sitting at the table, laughing about summer marching band trips, prom, and favorite teachers, I was reminded how fortunate I am to have my forever friends. Time passes between our visits, yet we are held together by our shared history. We have adult lives now, and are spread in different cities and states, yet thanks to social media it is easier than ever to remain in contact. In fact, most of them will probably read how I feel about them when this post appears on Facebook.
I am most thankful to my forever friends for always accepting me for me, regardless of changing physical abilities. My forever friends always found ways to make sure I was included in activities. When my Brownie troop marched in the Memorial Day parade, my fellow Brownies pulled me in a wagon so I could be in the parade too. When we played games during recess, my friends allowed me extra time to “run” so I could play along with them. Friends pushed my wheelchair during marching band season so I could fulfill the requirement to march (it’s hard to play an instrument and wheel at the same time). They danced with me at school dances and never questioned why I was there. It wasn’t until I left high school that I encountered the “oh, it’s great to see someone like you out having fun” reaction on a dance floor.
Now that I have a disabled peer network, I have learned about the shame and isolation many of them experienced as youths. I never felt that. Sure, I was picked on by classmates. I remember being called names by other kids in school. But I also remember my friends sticking up for me, telling me I was better than those who might try to put me down. I never faced malicious bullying as a child.
Aristotle wrote, “In poverty and other misfortunes of life, true friends are a sure refuge. They keep the young out of mischief; they comfort and aid the old in their weakness, and they incite those in the prime of life to noble deeds.” My true forever friends may not have kept me out of mischief as a youngster, but their continual comfort and assistance enrich my life in many ways.
Too often, we forget to express our gratitude to our friends because their friendship has been a constant in our lives. I have used my 30 Days of Thanks posts to publicly thank those who matter to me. How about you? When was the last time you wrote a thank you note to a friend? Why not take a moment to brighten a friend’s day right now? I guarantee it will make both of you feel better.