“Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other gold.”

A little ditty from my girl scout days. Usually sung around a campfire as we all held hands. Probably some foil dinners and s’mores as part of the experience. Wonderful memories from a looooong time ago, but also a valuable lesson on friendship. Friends are to be treasured.

I have many friends, long time “old” friends, and newer friends from my most recent life experiences. I have friends who are very similar to me in style and philosophy, and I have friends who are the total opposite. I love both. There is great comfort in similarity, but there is something refreshing about a relationship that challenges your perspective. I have friends who live halfway across the country who I see maybe twice a year now, and I have friends who I see weekly or more. I have friends who live right here, but that I only see occasionally because our paths just don’t cross in the same way anymore. That doesn’t make them any less of a friend. In fact, I embrace, even more, the times we do have together.

Such are my friends Bonnie and Jackie. We met at church many, many years ago. We were more church acquaintances back then, not necessarily seeing each other out of our church confines. And then one summer, after Hurricane Katrina, we all signed up for a mission trip to Mississippi to perform relief work. There is nothing like sharing bunk beds in a tiny dorm-like environment to bring people closer. The three of us traveled by car together all the way to Mississippi and back. We worked on the same houses together, painting, cleaning, and meeting homeowners who were at their lowest. It was an emotional and life-changing week for us, with the ultimate result of sealing our friendships. And ever since we have tried to see each other several times a year.

We are three very different people. When our friendship blossomed Bonnie was a much-too-early widow with two young-adult daughters. Jackie was a wife and mom of two, but also the most career-minded of us all. I was the consummate volunteer, wife and mom to two children and two step-children. We were raised very differently, Bonnie from a large family, Jackie from meager circumstances, and me in a loving blue-collar TEXAS environment (which is like no other.) Politically, we are on different pages. We’ve learned to be careful with each other in these divisive times, but we’ve always tried our very best to respect each others’ opinions. And while we have great differences, we also have some very strong connections. Bonnie and I have the kinship of both being mothers to gay/lesbian children, and we’ve walked each other through that journey. Bonnie and Jackie are both much more fitness-minded than me, which is embarrassing to admit. They always want to “take a hike” somewhere. Jackie and I share a love of cats and books that Bonnie totally doesn’t get. And we all have a love for helping others in difficult circumstances.

At this point, 13 years after our mission trip, our lives have certainly evolved in unique directions. Bonnie now lives outside Atlanta near one of her daughters. All our children have grown and spread their wings in many directions. I’m the only grandmother. And I’m also the only one with parents still living, since Jackie lost her mom last year. As I’ve written much about, I’m struggling in that sandwich generation role, which has not left me much time for nurturing my friendships. Bonnie and Jackie have been very understanding of my inability to get together so far this year, but a few weeks ago they started nudging me. And at the last minute we found a Friday night to meet in Spartanburg, SC for a quick girls’ trip. Jackie whisked me away to join Bonnie for some some good meals, lots of wine, and some heart to heart conversation. We explored downtown Spartanburg, such as it is, even finding a little shopping. It was a 24 hour balm to my soul.

I read one of those Facebook memes the other day that said, “We are all just walking each other home.” Thank goodness for the friends that walk with us. The friends who help carry the baggage. The friends who support us when we can’t walk on our own. Be they “old” or “new” our friendships are critical to our emotional survival. They are true treasure, the sparkle in the sand of our lives. Silver and gold.

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