Should auld acquaintance be forgot…

friendship poppies

I’m not really a party person – never have been. New Year’s Eve became many years ago one of those occasions I prefer to spend alone. Partly because there are still the faint stained shadows left of terrible New Year’s Eves when dreams and expectations were cruelly shattered at the very worst time – but more because I’ve come to value it as a time for quiet, private contemplation. For a number of years I would wait till midnight and then lay Tarot cards as an aid to reflect on the year gone by and the one yet to come. I don’t do that now. It feels these days as though my unconscious doesn’t need much prompting to bring to the surface those gems of insight.

This past year, since the very start of 2014, I have been immersed in writing – a process which continually encourages my unconscious and conscious to hold hands and reconnoitre. Typical of my ‘Let’s do it right now, and don’t hold the horses!’ Gemini personality I threw my intellect into the whole mind-bending process of publishing on kindle, creating a blog, rewriting my website, reframing my public profile and identity, leaping headlong into facebook and twitter, and behind the scenes not only preparing recently completed novels for publication, but dipping into the deep inkwell of the muse to create something entirely new. Looking back, I am astonished that I achieved so much in so relatively a short time – despite prolonged bouts of illness and the exhaustion left in its wake. (But don’t let’s dwell on that.)

(‘Yes, please, PLEASE let’s dwell on that’ says my body. But as usual I reply: ‘Look, you’ve already made your point’, and tell it not to make a fuss.)

More importantly than any of the above, it’s been a year during which I have unexpectedly made genuine connections with people through social media – something I would have once claimed was impossible. Out of those connections some real friendships have evolved. Not the kind of friendships where you hang out for hours and drink tea and set the world to rights, but the kind where you exchange not just thoughts but feelings, where you empathically bond and offer solace and support. ‘Keep it real’ has been my mantra ever since I crossed into the unknown territory of virtual reality. It’s been my mantra all my life, and is a recurring theme in my work as a therapist and in my writing.

What, after all, are we protecting when we pretend to be other than we are? And is it the best kind of protection to develop a false persona? The answer for me is emphatically no. If anything, I err on the side of being a bit too open and honest about myself – but that’s ok. I’m only another one just like you – a different storyline, perhaps, but the same core human needs and responses. It’s the human frailties of each of us that invariably touch me the most – how hard we strive to be the best we can for one another and ourselves. Falling over seven times we manage mostly to get up eight – and we encourage one another never to give up hope, even when we are at our most hopeless.

What has marked 2014 for me has been the often shocking accumulation of hopelessness on a global level. John Donne wrote in 1624: ‘Each man’s death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind…’ And so it has felt, watching wars unfold and lives destroyed, at times despairing for all humanity. Will we ever learn? Is peace possible? What will these war scarred children make of their future? Happiness has felt unattainable while sensing the pain of those dispossessed by conflict, tragedy, sickness and bigotry. There seems so little to do except express outrage and sympathy in equal measures, and practice a deeper compassion right here in my own back yard where I can at least witness its healing effect.

In my mid sixties now it’s not surprising that I have experienced a fair degree of personal loss in my time. Friendships can end for various reasons, and relationships don’t always work out. People move away, passion shuffles off with an apologetic backward glance, Titania wakes from her trance of infatuation and sees the asses head for what it is… I’ve become philosophical about all that. What endures is worth having. Some friendships have lasted almost thirty years, and some relationships have miraculously turned into beautiful friendships with fondness for the way we were. But some losses are not meant to be shrugged off, and I suppose as I get older I must get used to more of them. When a friend dies it’s as if a piece of your self has been torn away by time. You shared part of each other’s history and held it safe, like a much read book you could always take down from the shelf and revisit with affection. A friend I have known and loved for twenty five years died just before Christmas, and it’s reminded me how brief it all is, and how meaningless it would be without those special connections we make and the memories we spin out of times we shared and truths we confided, and love we felt.

The greatest gift we offer one another is that fellow feeling, the random kindness that springs from such a deep well inside us, that reaches out to touch another being with gentle words and a soft smile, and the innocent trust of a child. With our friends we can relax and share it, knowing we will not be rebuffed, that we’ll be accepted fully for who we are, with our crooked hearts and our never quite healed wounds. One less friend in my world, in spite of all the new friends I have made, is a small grief that sits heavily in my heart, even though I know he was ready to go and had suffered enough. What I remember most about him is his kindness, how much he cared about everyone, how much healing he brought into the world.

So here we all are, teetering on the brink of another year. I will bring to it what optimism I can, and remember that happiness is a choice and that to be here at all is a miracle, a blessing and a gift. And so to complete my refrain, in the familiar New Year tradition, let’s tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet, for auld lang syne…