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What is friendship, if not experiences shared? What drew me to you? What brought us together? What keeps us together? What drew us apart?

Your smile, which quickly became laughter, opened the door through which I took a step and was soon enveloped in a colourful world. A cup of tea and cookies shared outside, as the sun’s rays warmed us. A story begins, woven with words that draw more laughter. And soon it blends into another. We are kindred spirit. Motherhood is a central part of your life, and I can hear familiar patterns in your stories, themes that mirror my own experiences, even if differentiated by nuance.

Today so proud of the children – nothing earth-shattering in the accomplishments; but then again, a mother’s pride often draws from the seemingly small milestones achieved. Beds were made without my reminding them. A warm, unexpected hug enveloped me, drawing me out of slumber so gently and so lovingly. I wanted to hold onto that moment, suspended between sleep and wakefulness, feeling the tiny hands holding me with such certainty. Tomorrow it will be one or the other that disappoints: upsets the balance, causes anger, questions the ability to parent.

Those moments, those disappointing moments that sometimes slide to a dark place. The reaction sometimes escalate to the extreme. I lash out, shouting, the slap snaps me back to my senses. I stop abruptly. Was that really necessary? Couldn’t I have found another way of communicating? The remorse washes over me. Our eyes connect, and I can see the confusion? Why, Mummy? Why did you do that? I can’t face you. The tears flowing down your face speak volumes. I am mortified!

We continue sipping our tea, and the sun’s rays gently caress our skin. The gentle breeze picks up and dies down, a whisper. Here now, making the basking so much more enjoyable, gone again, teasing us, playfully. Here I feel safe. Here I can speak the mortification that I couldn’t even allow my brain to process. Here we are human and our faults speak to nuances that make us what we are. No judgement. Two friends whose experiences help us to face life’s journey with greater courage and conviction.

It was your smile that drew me to you. Gap toothed and confident, definitive in its openness. And I was drawn to you. And even though you were older than I, at an age where every single day mattered so much and we yearned to be older, more important, taken seriously, you didn’t make me feel like a little, irrelevant and insignificant kid, your junior. You embraced me with your laughter, the lilt in your voice unravelling the story quick, fast! The words, unstoppable, tumbling out weaving the tale, mesmerising me. We’re traipsing along the river’s edge, picking up a stick here, throwing a stone into the water there, devising little games as we go along. The twinkle in your eyes holds rapt my attention, as I listen to your words, punctuated with your laughter, which in turn draws mine. I feel so free, so alive, so warmed by this moment.

My son lies nestled in your arms. Fast asleep, he radiates that angelic aura so characterisitic of infants in slumber. We stand round him, and bless him, as instructed by the priest. The water trickles down his forehead as the Baptismal Rite is invoked. The anointing is complete. I can feel the tears well up in my eyes, as they always do in moments like this. None of the activity around causes a stir in him. We were children just yesterday, and here we stand today with our own. Grown up, mothers, still together decades later (can it really be decades?!). The smiles are still there, bubbling over into laughter as Father makes some comment about the quietest Baptism he’s ever presided over. Even now, the girls by the river remain with us, popping up unbidden, the thread that weaves itself through our lives and holds us together.

The tea mornings have faded away. I cannot recall any one instance that led us here, to this desolate place. The sharing was not a sharing. Betrayal wedged itself hard and fast. The words that had flowed thick and fast were designed to draw me out. Lull me into a comfort where my sharing was the fodder from which you would weave stories designed to slight, to malign, to recreate a spectre of me that dehumanised and debased.

When the first discordant notes started falling intermittently in the tale, the laughter chased away the hint of ice touching the edge of my heart. But only fleetingly. The venom seeped, insidiously, almost imperceptibly through bonds that had tied me to others that had been close to me. I did not hear quickly enough the laughter transformed. The mockery settled, the mask of a smile, the trill of laughter was needed no more! The words continued, a staccato tattoo that took aim and, with unfailing precision, found their target. That which you had never built and sustained in your life, you destroyed in mine. You insinuated yourself at the core of my friendship circle and you unleashed a tidal wave of destruction!

That season is now past. As with all storms, there are always survivors. The bitterness and anger have subsided. New rays pierce through the clearing sky to bless another day.

Your smile drew me to you. Desk mates in high school, we sat through interminable lessons. And over the years, that smile, so quickly dissolving into uninhibited, infectious laughter, has held me and encouraged me through so many moments. That smile, accompanied by your quiet, yet strong voice, has been a solace for me on so many occasions.

In my lowest moments, you have been there, quietly guiding me to really interrogate the situation, showing me points of view I had never even considered. When unsure of a defining decision, I know I can reach out to you, and in your quietness, you help me articulate my concerns, air out my worries, and find the strength to push on to a decision. Our bond is not defined by the material or social stature. I can be myself, unfettered by worry as to how I should present myself when I’m with you. We’re in a phase in life where we can be carefree, but the reality of responsibilities, and the season we’re in, checks the buoyancy just so.

When did we become parents and the counselors to the parents who raised us? They still stand, but not as resolutely and seemingly omnipotent as they once did. A word, a look, can take us back to our childhood, but more and more we feel the weight of the now stooping bodies, now creaking joints, sometimes tired minds, as they seek the support that we had grown so accustomed to drawing from them.

We share now, truly, deeply with the confidence that the concern, the caring, the respect, the inspiration have become a part of our being, what binds us. You stand with me, accepting of me, accepting of mine, answering yes to my request for your buttress of support, as you take on yet another role: mother to my own.

And that is friendship. Shared experiences. Opening up to and accepting the influence of chosen ones. And even when we may have not chosen wisely, even when we look in hindsight and wonder, why did I ever get myself in that situation, friendships are what move us through the dance of life. They make the experience bearable, euphoric, joyous. They teach us lessons that remain etched in our hearts. Whether for a season, or if so blessed, for a lifetime, friendships are the bonds that tie us together in the circles that colour our lives.