December 24, 2021

Friendships Old and New

by Deb Gerow | Wellness Committee

While looking through an old autograph book, I found this wise saying: “Make new friends, but keep the old; one is silver, the other is gold.” I began thinking about the importance of friends — friends past and present — and how we go about connecting with new friends.

Studies show that social connection is important to good health. It can lead to lower anxiety and depression while helping to regulate our emotions. Perhaps this is because a friend is someone to whom we can express our deeply felt feelings. Relationships with friends often increase self-esteem and empathy because we are invested in the wellbeing of another. Friendships are essential in this time when the number of lonely people is growing. Technology has the ability to connect us more than ever, but individual screen time often disconnects us from others. The past two years have made it evident that while technology can enhance connections, it cannot replace the face-to-face interactions that we need in order to thrive. Human beings require connections with other living beings.

As a child, I had many good friends, many of whom are still friends today. I was especially fortunate to have a best friend who was also a kindred spirit; that is, we knew almost immediately upon meeting that we saw life through the same lens. We spent hours in each other’s company. We played Monopoly on weekend afternoons, got up to mischief together (once we drank tiny glasses of grape juice and ate the leftover cubes of bread in the church kitchen — scandalous because she was the minister’s daughter), attended summer camp together, tormented our younger siblings, and volunteered for our favourite causes. We read the same books; we listened to the same music. Unfortunately, when we were entering high school, her family moved more than a thousand miles away. Although we have never lived any closer than that since, we are still good friends who are capable of resuming our friendship whenever we are in contact. I know that if I were ever in need of support, she would be there for me.

In other stages of my life, I have found new friends in different ways. Some of those friendships developed in the ice arena as parents sat shivering in the bleachers, discussing life, sharing perspectives, and watching our children participate in sports. It was a great way to get to know about the new community we had moved into and to make connections with other people. Other friendships came from being part of the local volunteer fire department. Standing in a freezing cold creek while working together to extricate an injured person trapped in a vehicle, watching a huge brush fire advancing toward us while wondering how we would be able to stop it, seeing each other at our best and at our worst, created a strong bond which endures even though our firefighting days are over. Many friendships came through working in schools with people who shared the same passion to make a difference for our students against all odds. Working so closely with other people who also cared so much about the well-being of children made forging friendships inevitable. Now, I am happy to count as friends many people whom I have met through being part of ARTA. Sharing a history, a purpose, a vision of the world, and being willing to work together to make a difference for others is the connection between us. I should add that we also enjoy the time we spend together.

So, what can I say to those who are searching for friends? How does one go about finding them and making a connection? My best advice would be to examine those things that are most important to you. When you have identified these priorities, then engage yourself in activities that support those passions. Maybe it means joining a new club or activity, volunteering to sustain a cause that you are passionate about, or getting out and trying something just because it looks like fun. Perhaps that means reaching out to an old friend with whom you have lost contact. They probably would be delighted to hear from you. If you are not already a member of an ARTA branch, perhaps consider joining one. You will meet some great people there. I recently read the annual reports of all of the ARTA branches. It was amazing to learn how creative they have been, offering so many different activities and opportunities to socialize, despite the restrictions imposed by the pandemic. Just imagine how much more they will be able to do when meeting in person once again!

Connections with other people are necessary to keep us healthy. Friendships, whether old friends, new friends, or kindred spirits, silver or gold, enrich our lives.