It seems like it would be really easy to write about being grateful for your friends during the holidays, right? Simple. Friends are awesome. Holidays are times of gratitude, among other things, like stress, and cookies.
It turns out it's really not. It's such a huge concept, for me anyway, that being thankful for these chosen people who make my life tick is so huge and essential that it's really almost beyond words. Because I don't know about you, but from one January to the next, I would be lost without the far-flung group of on- and offline people who make up that beautiful group of people that I call "my friends." And from the end of October until the first of January, in this ever-expanding period that retail and pop culture seems to demand we call the holidays, I know I rely upon them more.
Or maybe I just have the GChat rants to prove it.
I have a family rich in love and activity all year round. Single and without children of my own, my relatively large extended family is essential to my holidays. Add my friends in and it's a serious embarrassment of riches. George Bailey has nothing on me, and I rent so my friends don't even have to kick in for my house note.
It's long, but 7:25 is the money shot. No woman is a failure if she has friends either, Clarence. I think you know that, but I'm just stating it for the record.
Over the years my friends have stepped up during the holidays in ways I have appreciated and loved, in ways that have made me feel like my maturing efforts to connect with people make sense. When I lived in Ohio and coming home for Thanksgiving was too much since I'd need to travel back to Maryland in less than a month for Christmas, my friend Steven invited me to his huge family's traditional dinner and it's one of my favorite memories from that time. I was a fixture at my best high school friend's parents' house for a traditional Italian New Year's Eve dinner for many years, and I believe they would still welcome me today.
And as I've continued to be single for a few holiday seasons now, it bears mentioning that this does not in any way mean lonely. Single means a lot of things for me, just like being partnered did, but it certainly means that I have traditions regardless and because my life is full of relationships they just happen, as the best ones do.
Closer to home or over thousands of miles of webs and tubes, I talk over the holiday months about gifts and social events and daily whatever with my network of on and off-line people. And even with the best and the closest, I think one of the most important things and one of my deepest sources of gratitude is that there are no obligations beyond the ones we mutually establish. They don't judge whether or not I go to church. (Some have been known to pray for me. Ahem.) I don't care if they have ham or turkey, or if they got their cards mailed. I don't need them to do that thing they've always done or be the way they've necessarily always been.
(Although it is nice to get cards. I like cards. Can't help myself.)
I don't have to ask for anything and they don't have to ask me, and somehow we end up mutually receiving an awful lot anyway. It's all there in the conversation and the connection.
This year I went straight from an excellent family beach Thanksgiving trip to Georgia, part of my newish practice of spending the first week of December with my best friend from college and her girls. (And it also doesn't hurt that it's minutes away from a gorgeous beach so I get a break from my city stress at the same time.) She opens her doors to me and we hang out and I make cookies with the kids for their school Christmas parties and they pick shells from their collection to send back up north with me.
My Christmas-week birthday can be hit or miss, based on timing alone, but I always end up spending it in a good way, with good people. This year Sarah (thanks, BlogHer) went to a basketball game with me, and I could maybe tell you how thankful I am for a friend who derives similar happiness from beers and a sporting event to break up a week bookended with Santa Claus and noisemakers but you can probably imagine.
This year, Twitter and Facebook blew up with birthday greetings too and it honestly and very unexpectedly touched me deeply. The Web is no substitute for in-person birthday hugs and cards, for sure (not to mention birthday wine.) But it is still a big part of my life and at a time when everything is so hectic it was great to see so many people from all of the corners of my world take the time to reach out.
This week, Kristen (thanks again, BlogHer) invited me over for New Year's Eve, and I am excited. New Year's Eve stresses me out, true story. I'm a fan of the concept of anticipating and then celebrating a new page on the annual calendar, but I don't like the logistics and the thought of coming up with plans on a night that seems like it was designed for couples and parties.
Get this: she asked me like she really cared if I was there. Now I have somewhere to go, and it doesn't involve me and Dick Clark slash Ryan Seacrest or an all-night Champagne toast yuppie rave in a DC bar. It will be low-stress and I have a feeling they'll have good beer. She is also one of the best people I know who unfailingly makes me laugh, and I know there will be someone there to greet me who cares (unlesssheistotallylyingaboutcaringomg) and then I can leave and feel a lot better about the way I kicked off 2010.
Really, what more do you need?
My best friends make me feel - I can't believe I'm going to write this and it doesn't even sound sappy in my head because I know it's true - like I'm home. And if there's no place like home for these here holidays, I've got about five places that are like no place else to me, even if they happen to be just sitting next to me in a moving car.
The details of birthday basketball games and New Year's invitations and cookies with my favorite kids are essential to tell you that my friends save me in these and myriad other ways during the holiday season. And this is not only why I am unfailingly grateful for them specifically but also why I am constantly thwarted from being at all bitter and jaded about my life, not only because that is not smart and not good for your complexion, as my grandmother liked to jokingly remind me, but also because it's really not even possible when this kind of goodness heads your way.
I hope that you find this feeling during this somewhat bizarre yet potentially beautiful time of year. Because even though I can be a blockhead in my worst moments, I somehow ended up with people who know that I'm trying my best, regardless.
Other voices, around the Web:
This holiday season, if you know someone with nowhere else to go or who's having a hard time, invite them over. Give them the irreplaceable gift of friendship, caring and love. You may just be saving them the way my parents did for a different person every year and my friends did for me. There is no better gift you can give. Believe me – I know.
I know this too, from personal experience.
Lisa at OmyWordBlog is hosting her friend MommaK and her three-year-old P at her tiny apartment in Paris. K is a single mom and a cancer survivor struggling to stay afloat with a little help from Lisa. Great story.
I'm grateful that she's living in my condo in Arizona while she looks for a job and tries to get her life back in order. This means my condo doesn't sit empty while I sit out this terrible downturn in our economy. It also means that she and her child are safe and cozy while she finds her way. She's a testament to public-option health care, since she would not be here if not for the fact that Arizona has a good public plan (called Access). When I think about why I pay taxes, I think of her.
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