I've been thinking a lot about friendships lately. I'm still close friends with a number of the people I went to school with 30 years ago. I've always thought there was something special about such old friendships - because they give us glimpses into who we were when those friendships began, because they have been honed by years of knowing and forgiving one another's faults, or simply because friendships formed early in life are "hard-wired" in some way.
Unfortunately, as I've learned in recent months, even such old friendships can come to painful ends. Dishonesty and insensitivity on the part of close friends is hard to forgive - especially when they result from what appears to be little more than selfishness.
Responding to my evident disappointment at a friend's behaviour, a former classmate sent me this wise, insightful and comforting message:
We are at that stage in our lives where we are most vulnerable to this kind of thing -- old enough to think we really know the people we thought we have known forever, and so probably more reliant on the stability that view of the universe brings us. It can also disappoint because it leaves you with the feeling that the relationship you had in the past was not as real or authentic as you thought it was. So it can be quite destabilizing when this happens. People can and do change with time... so one person's behaviour that disappoints you today may not always be a sign that you were deceived in the past. I have been bashed about a number of times in the last few years with things like this in both the personal and professional. Perhaps one of the reasons it is hard to accept is that as we get older, our closer and dearer friendships seem more valuable and harder to replace. So when one of them seems to be really damaged there is an even deeper sense of loss.
I've written before about forgiveness and how difficult it is. My better self knows we are all just human beings, equally fallible and worthy of forgiveness - but knowing that does little to ease the sense of loss. More troubling is how tempting it can be to want to seek retribution for the pain inflicted by a friend's betrayal.
To my mind, real love and forgiveness aren't about forgetting past wrongs or ignoring reality. They're about finding ways to accept our friends and loved ones for all they are, sending them light and love, and then (if it's for the best) letting them go - as sad and hard as that may be.
In 2010, my New Year's resolution was to "love fearlessly" recognizing that love is not always returned in the ways one hopes. As naive as it sounds, I've decided to make the same resolution this year - along with three others: To try harder to forgive friends who disappoint, to accept truths about myself and others I'd prefer not to see, and to nurture reconciliation whenever possible. It's a pretty ambitious list, but the alternative (harbouring disappointment and anger indefinitely) seems a much less appealing prospect than challenging myself to do better.