The people who sustain me

In the midst of this season that is all about family and friends, I suddenly realize: in two weeks, I will begin a month with strangers, thousands of kilometres away from anyone or any place familiar.

I have always found joy in travel, and I have traveled on my own, but I now realize that it has never been longer than a week before I crossed paths with someone I knew. I start to wonder how I will handle it. Because lately, I have truly, deeply realized the importance of my friends and family.

Through crisis, I have been surprised to discover the depths of my friendships. When I was young I discarded friends like last year’s fashion: if I changed jobs, moved to a new town, went back to school, broke up with a partner, I would leave most everyone behind and develop a new social circle. I have had a very few, long-time friends who somehow, despite the odds, I kept in touch with. Over 40 plus years, less than a handful of friends have “stuck,” despite many moves and life changes. We drift apart, sometimes for years, but when we coincide again, which we always do, it is like no time has passed and we are as close as we ever were. And my sisters, I sometimes think, share the same soul.

Yet in my time of crisis (only two months since my husband left, but eight months since I found out he was unfaithful), I have discovered that people whom I thought were friends through circumstance are so much more. People whom I considered only acquaintances hug me as I sob, in a store, a dentist office, a staff room. Small gestures and compassionate words blindside me and leave me vulnerable. I am astonished at unexpected acts of kindness.

I have three friends, all met in this town through our children. The children have grown but the friendships have continued. Although they knew each other through me, they were not friends otherwise. Yet when my world fell apart, they came together to hold me. They had a group text where they chatted: Who has talked to Kathryn today? Who is bringing her something to eat? Who is taking her for a walk?

And on those walks, we talked. Mostly about me and my troubles, I admit, but it went both ways. We explored the universality of the human condition: children and aging parents, partners and friends, and what made life both frustrating and worthwhile. As one of them said, “I feel we have connected more in the last few months than in the previous 15 years.”

And the commonality, I believe, is that I have been open in a way I have never been before. The walls have come down, and I have realized that while this has made me more vulnerable it has also allowed connections that I had no idea were possible. Vulnerability is not weakness. Isolation is not strength.

So although I will be leaving my newly appreciated foundation when I go to the Middle East in January, I know that the bedrock will remain. And as I travel I will try to keep the openness that I have developed through the last tumultuous months.

And who know, perhaps I will return with new friends.

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