Friday, May 6, 2011

Rebuilding Bridges of Friendship

Two Girls Reading in a Garden by Pierre-August Renoir

Forty-six years ago three 11-year-old girls in a group of four ostracized the fourth because she was the prettiest. While this had not posed a problem during their younger years, it was quite apparent that the boys in their sixth grade class had their eyes on the prettiest one, and so the other three were jealous. The three girls teased Cheryl during recess, mimicking her mannerisms and speech. I was one of the three. I don’t remember behaving this way, but than we tend not to remember our own misdeeds. I'm sure it never occurred to me that my behavior would result in the end of a friendship I cherished. But Cheryl was badly hurt, and so she abandoned us and found other friends.

I never took responsibility for the loss of that friendship, always blaming Cheryl for dropping me in favor of the “cool” pretty girls, not realizing they just happened to be the girls who treated her kindly and welcomed her into their circle. We didn’t speak to each other all through junior high and high school, but I never forgot her, and she continued to visit me in my dreams throughout our adulthood. At our twentieth high school reunion Cheryl – now Cheri – and I finally spoke to each other. Cheri smiled at me and exclaimed warmly: “Emily! You look exactly the way I remembered you!” 

“I was hoping to see you here!” I responded, overwhelmed with emotion. 

“Look, she’s twinkling!” Cheri said to our husbands. Then the tears that had been sparkling in my eyes spilled over, and sobbing, I confided to her about the dreams that had haunted me for so many years, and the sadness I felt about our broken friendship.

“But I have only fond memories of you,” she said. “Our friendship was very precious to me and I’ve always remembered it that way.” She handed me a tissue for my tears. “We used to share a lot of things, didn’t we?” 

As I wiped away my tears I felt myself cleansed and forgiven. After the reunion I returned home to central New York and Cheri to Florida, but we exchanged Christmas cards and friendly notes every year for another twenty years. However, it wasn’t until this year, just a month ago, that we started to e-mail each other and open up about the misunderstanding of our past. I learned why it was that Cheri walked out of my life so long ago, and I understood. We realized what a mistake we had both made by coming to wrong conclusions about each other and not communicating. But then we were only eleven years old! Many adults make the same mistake, and so end relationships that could have been saved by an honest heart-to-heart talk. 

When we were children, Cheri and I enjoyed reading the same books, spending time in nature, and working on school projects together. Now we are discovering that we still share many of the same interests, and we’re making up for the lost years. This experience has taught me not to give up on an estranged friend before extending an offer to rebuild the crumbling bridge between us. I can only hope that as people build and rebuild stronger bridges between themselves, the bridges of oneness with all of humanity will become stronger as well!

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