I have not always been particularly good at friendship. The combination of being a strong introvert and taking pride in being self-sufficient is not a terribly good foundation for strong friendships. I have l always had friends, and I have managed to make new friends as I move around from one school to another, from one university to another, and to various countries, but has taken me a good while to discover the real treasure of friendship.
In my years as a teenager and a young adult, I made friends with those in my immediate environment. Overlapping living space and a shared interest in one or two things slowly evolved into good companionship. I have good memories of conversations and laughter, and some of my companions from those years are still a part of my circle.
Then something shifted, I moved to a new country. I made friends with two extraordinary women who I met through my job, but because we lived in three different places in the country, we had to make an effort to get together. It was no longer a happy accident or a casual catch up. The gatherings had to be more intentional. In my friendship with them I began to glimpse the truth that there are some people who actually really value my presence. Why else would such an effort be made?
That understanding made my re-entry into Cape Town substantially easier. I intentionally began spending time with various people. Seeking each one out and making the effort to spend time with them. And I grew in my confidence that perhaps my presence was actually valued by more people. Still though, whenever I struggled with anything I would withdraw and hibernate for while, as I sorted myself out, before reengaging.
It was only a couple of years ago when I was going through a particular rough patch, as wave after wave of chaos erupted around me in a relatively short time period, that I risked talking to a few very close friends about the fact that I wasn’t okay. It was only a little while later that I began to recognise the significance of the shift. I had shown my friends my weakness and my brokenness and they had stepped up. I could now trust my friends to hold me even when I wasn’t fine. They were willing to stick around even when I was unable to give much.
It has been a long journey, and I am grateful to those who were my companions in the early days – I don’t think I was a particularly good friend back then. As I write this, I know that there is a clear correlation between the slow growth out of my own insecurity in this area, and my capacity to engage. But all of that has happened because I had companions along the way who were willing to stick with me even as I struggled, before I realised the real gift in friendship. I am deeply grateful to all who taught me so much along the way.