This past weekend I learnt something about friendships. I learnt that we have to define for ourselves what kind of friendships matter to us and what kind of friendships fulfill us. As someone who has grown up moving around not just neighbourhoods, or cities, but countries, my take on friendship has had to be unconventional and my coterie of friends quite colorful and varied – men and women of all shades, nationalities, walks of life, and professions have had their hand in getting me to where I stand today. I don’t have what I think is the luxury of having child-hood friends near me – you know those friends you had from the snotty-nosed days, who you told about your first kiss and who everyone else identified you with – if someone saw one of the pair or triplet the other one or two were not too far away.
As a result, the theme of my friendships has always been of connecting with the outsiders, the unconventional and interesting and sometimes colorful, and then just as the fun is about to begin, oops time to move again. Even in those friendships I made I was still the outsider because if you join a new school halfway through everyone already knows everyone and you will always be the new girl. There was a slight change to this theme when I started my ‘1st’ high school in the Bahamas at the age of 10 or so – we were all new in Grade 7 as it was called (Year One) so it was a fresh start from day one – exhilarating! My first group of friends that were mine will always be special to me – Tanya A, Tanya P and Gaynor. We called ourselves the Awesome Foursome. We were all cute and smart and popular with both girls and boys and our teachers; we had personalities that totally complemented each other. We would rub each other the wrong way every now and then of course as girls do, but rose-tinted glasses aside, we were extremely close and never seriously upset with each other. The day we found out that I was moving to another school was a day of mourning for us. We pined about this increasingly towards the end of our 2nd and final year together. About 7 or so years ago, aged 31, I discovered some home-made cards with good-bye messages and poems that my 3 friends wrote for me on my last day at school – the love we had for each other was evident right there in front of me after so many years. It was a thrill to reconnect with one of the Awesome Foursome on Facebook a couple of years ago; whilst we are clearly different people now – our exchanges, though brief, allude to a precious history that cannot be rewritten.
I did not have that experience for another 10 years when I started medical school in Nottingham, when again everyone was on equal footing where forming new relationships was concerned. One of my closest friends today – I will call her Miss B – is a girl I met on our very first day at university. She said I reminded her of her little sister and for me, she was this quiet, beautiful, warm, caring and genuine girl. By then, I had learnt that the quiet people are always the most interesting!! On the face of it we were quite different people but we just connected and still do after 18 years, despite long periods when we did not see or speak to each other. When she moved to Singapore 2 years ago, instead of it being a day or mourning, like it was when I broke up the Awesome Foursome, I realised that over the years I had come to accept the definition of friendship according to me. Because over the ensuing years of postgraduate medical training, moving to different hospitals in different cities, the pattern continued; and somehow over those years I learnt to stop pining for lost child-hood friendships and started really ‘feeling’ and appreciating those relationships that I had the opportunity to find. And when those friendships were physically no more, they were no more; if we kept in touch we did, if we didn’t, we didn’t. What mattered was the experience and memories of our times together, how those experiences taught me lessons, and helped me form other meaningful relationships. Another important lesson I learnt was to cast aside the theory that abounds and can limit us so much – that it is harder to make friends as we get older. Which brings me to this past weekend.
So this past weekend, I spent time with a newly formed networking group of ‘Women of Excellence ‘. This was at one of our monthly seminars. I have known the founder of the group , Miss M, for about 5 years – as long as I have been in London. She was my Beauty Therapist initially; then life events took over and we didn’t see or speak to each for about 4 years. We then reconnected as she was starting WoE, and 2 years later she is not only a dear friend but My Big Sister from Another Life. Through her I have met 5 other wonderful women who I have slowly got to know through our planning meetings and functions. This past weekend after an amazing testimony from the newest member of the group, we ladies sat down and had a CONVERSATION!
For 2 hours we talked, we uplifted, we empowered, we connected, we laughed and we even cried. Our thoughts and opinions on family, relationships, parenthood, success, attitude, Beyonce (!), the media, though different in some respects, just ‘gelled.’ These weren’t women I had known since I had a snotty nose, or bobbles in my hair,or when my period started; these were women ranging in age from 24 to 52 that I had got to know over the past 15 months. Not a long time some would say. But if those same people who doubt were to ask me: ‘Are these women who you can share your thoughts with?’ ‘Are these women who show genuine care and concern and receive your genuine care and concern in return?’ ‘Are these women you can call when you are in a situation?’ ‘Are these women who make you feel good?’ ‘Are these women who you can count on to tell you like it is – whether it’s pretty or not – and who recognise when the time is right to tell you like it is?!’ ‘Are these women you respect and who respect you?’ ‘Are these women who add value to your life?’ – I would answer yes to all these questions.
Who knows if we will still be together in the next 5 months, 15 months or 15 years. But what my friendships have taught me over the years is to recognise, appreciate, value, and enjoy them when they come, in whatever form they come and for however long they last!