16 years ago this October, I was lucky enough to meet someone who was to have a permanent positive impact on my life. 16 years ago, I met my best friend, Sarah. Fate plays a huge role in what happens in our life – we can steer ourselves in certain directions but that in no way implies that we have complete control over our lives.
For me, I was hanging out in front of a lecture room at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies in London so I could ‘bump’ into a guy I fancied (he had zero interest in me) while doing my Masters. That day, we met and had coffee but little did I realise it at the time but my life had changed utterly – far more than it would have if there had been a momentary fizzle of something between myself and this guy. This was far more than a momentary fizzle; this was the start of a true, deep and at times hilarity filled friendship. Sarah also walked out of the lecture room and joined us for coffee. This was our first meeting.
Some people come into your life and you know that you have found somebody who will be a good friend to you, who will support you. Generally, you feel that you play such a role in their lives too. Sarah, however, is different. Sarah, I am privileged to be allowed call a friend. She is a step above all other people I have met in my life. She is unique in a way that I could never dream to be. She cares deeply for those around her and will do anything for you – you often don’t even need to ask.
Since we met, I have lived in three different countries and she has visited me in all but one of those countries and more than once at that. The third – well that is India – her last text to me said, ‘See you at Christmas (when we go back to the UK) if not sooner.’ Sarah would never even consider not visiting or going out of her way to make sure that I was happy and comfortable – the thought quite simply wouldn’t occur to her.
Sarah, therefore, over the last 16 years has set a standard for friendship that I suspect is unattainable. She has however also made it clear to me just how important friendship is. Friendship, is not just fun and laughter over a few drinks; friendship is also darkness – it is being there (in person or virtually) when they think there is no light, it is being there to shine a torch into the darkened room of their life and show the person that there is a way out.
Friendship is clearly something that is a worry when you move halfway around the world. While I have no doubts that my Sarah will always be there for me as will Kathryn, Parin, Sue etc etc but they will not be here in India. They will not be there all the time to drink with, walk with, laugh with and cry with. Consequently, Chris and I now face the challenge of finding people who singly or collectively can play all the above roles – face-to-face.
It is abundantly clear so far that every expat you meet has an instinctive desire to make you feel welcome, to help you, to support you and it would seem to drink with you! This instinct surely provides the best basis for the type of person who could one day be a friend. Certainly, I have met people in just a week that I am more than happy to spend lots more time with and who knows maybe fate has already flown my way and I have met the person or people who will become my closest friends while we are here.
True deep friendships are like the love between a couple – yes, it can come in an instant and both sides can realise that they have met the ‘one’ they want to share their life with. I think most of the time these true, deep friendships just like romantic love, needs time and work to develop a level of permanency. So, who knows who is going to come my way over the next few weeks or years, who knows what friendships will develop.
Putting yourself out there – risking rejection is the only way to find the security of friendship. This was so clearly demonstrated by a Meetup group in Stratford upon Avon, UK that I set up. Now 330 members strong, there had to be the some in the beginning, happy to risk joining just a few people with no real plans and no real idea of where they were going. All of us, however, shared the desire not to be insular but to look to the world and see what it could offer them. We were faced with the choice between loneliness or the insecurity of a situation that could either lead to rejection or friendship. Through this Meetup group, I moved from being very isolated in Stratford to havingan active social life and a network of very good friends who I drank with, walked with, laughed with and cried with.
It is reassuring to know therefore that in the UK I have solid friendships – be those from old like Sarah, Kathryn, Parin and Sue or the newer ones met through the Meetup group. They help to give me the strength to look out to the world here in India and see that new friendships are always possible no matter what stage you are in your life. I threw myself into new / challenging / out of my comfort zone situations to meet my existing friends; I now need to throw myself into everything here too for the same reason.
So Sarah this blog post is dedicated to you and to the incredible friendship we share. This is your birthday present (for yes it is Sarah’s birthday today!).
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