If I am not for myself, then who is for me?
If I am for myself alone, then who am I?
Growing older without a community of like-minded souls around you is like baking bread without salt. Life loses its savour and then you don’t eat enough to be nourished.
Friendship is like an expanding ring of ripples in a pool of clear water.
You are the centre, because if you don’t make friends with yourself, for all your imperfections and irritating ways, you’ll find it almost impossible truly to befriend others.
The next ring is your intimate circle, your life partner if you have one, those friends and family you are closest to. (And please don’t kid yourself here: sometimes the friends and family members you have most to do with are not those closest to you. I’m talking here about connection at an intimate level.)
Next is your circle of acquaintances: work colleagues you get on with, remote family, fellow members of your local activist group, the plumber you can rely on not to rip you off, the vet who nurses your pet through its last illness and witnesses your tears. Also, if you are so inclined, all those people you know only through online communities, blogs and so on.
Then we come to the people in your life who you may wish were not in your community! That belligerent boss, the intrusive cousin who never allows you time to yourself, perhaps the ex-husband you have to see occasionally because of the kids.
But you know it’s a funny thing about our ripples of water. It only takes a breeze or a bird to stir the water and change the direction of those ripples, mash them together or skim them out to the side of the pool.
Friendship is like that. We might feel such a close connection with someone we only know online that they become part of our inner circle; we might slowly grow apart from a close friend who changes direction.
And there’s one more factor: as we grow older, friends who are our contemporaries begin to get ill, and we will experience the heart-wrenching sadness of losing friends to death. In a memorial for those who died in the terrorist attacks in the United States on 11 September 2001, a speech was read on behalf of Queen Elizabeth II. It included this phrase:
Grief is the price we pay for love