The Real-Life Magic of Friendship

“But it does not seem that I can trust anyone,’ said Frodo.
Sam looked at him unhappily. ‘It all depends on what you want,’ put in Merry. ‘You can trust us to stick with you through thick and thin–to the bitter end. And you can trust us to keep any secret of yours–closer than you keep it yourself. But you cannot trust us to let you face trouble alone, and go off without a word. We are your friends, Frodo.”  — JRR Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

On one hand,  it seems my friend Carol and I had the most random meeting ever: in a mall parking lot, in October of the year we were both in fifth grade. On the other hand, the fact that I moved into a house down the street from her a few days later makes our friendship begin to look like destiny rather than random circumstance.

When I moved to another state later that same year, I lost track of Carol. And began a pattern that held true for much of my life: arrive in a new location, make friends; move on, leave friends behind.

But Carol has pretty much refused to be left behind. Eventually, I moved back to our hometown (during our senior year of high school). I saw Carol in homeroom on day one but I was too shy to approach her. She didn’t hear my name called, and it was mid-year before she realized I was there. Boy, did she let me have it for not approaching her or somehow flagging her attention.

Over the years, Carol has been the most loyal of friends – always reaching out, always thoughtful, always remembering. Last week, I received a lovely package of goodies from Malaysia, where Carol has been living this past year with her husband Zul and beautiful daughter Rumela. I wrote a thank you card, then realized I have no idea where to send it, as Carol is currently traveling. She has always had the skills to find me, while my tracking abilities leave much to be desired.

Truth be told, the issue is bigger than tracking skills. Truth be told, friends are something of a mystery to me.

Making a new friend feels like alchemy, a mixture of chemistry and fairy dust I don’t begin to comprehend – even when I make intentional overtures (like the day I met Kate and Victoria and pretty much overwhelmed them-ok, frightened them- with my offer of friendship). I never feel very certain how it actually happens, though I’m so glad when it does.

But if the beginnings of friendship are difficult for me to parse, the part I really don’t get is the part where friends become lifelong, true to the core, loyal and beloved. That feels like full-blown magic to me.

I say magic, because: a) I don’t understand how it happens; b) I certainly don’t deserve it-which makes it truly a gift, and one that seems to materialize before my very eyes at that; c) I know that I am rarely as good a friend to others as my friends are to me.

Magic, because it is more than a collection of moments spent together. I have friends who amaze me and add warmth to my days even if we rarely see each other.

Magic, because it is more than a set of similarities between us. If friendship only exists between people who are alike, I could name a handful of people with whom I would never have become friends (but I won’t, because that would be rude, and I love those people!).

Magic, because sometimes things appear unexpectedly and make me clap my hands in delight: cards from South Dakota, macaroons from Ames, Facebook messages from Hawaii, or texts from across town.

Magic, because my friends understand what I need even if I sometimes don’t. And they give it freely, even without being asked.

Who ARE all of you magical people, and how did you appear in – and become part of – my life?

I may not understand how friendship happens, or how it works exactly. But I do know that it has and continues to enrich my life in many ways I can’t begin to articulate. And while I remember how I first met Carol, the same isn’t true for all of my friends. I don’t remember the many ways our lives have crisscrossed, or all of the times we have offered support or encouragement to one another. I can’t list the tangible – much less the intangible – gifts I’ve received from (and hopefully given to) my friends. But I do recognize real life magic when I experience it. And I am beyond grateful for it – even if I sometimes forget to say thank you – or don’t know where to send the card!


“We were together. I forget the rest.”

–Walt Whitman




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