A few years ago, while culling the masses of costume jewelry I have accumulated over the years, I came across a small, silver ring which I, along with my two closest friends at the time, designed and had crafted by a local jeweler. It was slightly tarnished and could have used a good cleaning. Seeing it after the years and placing it on my finger where it once sat brought me right back to the ninth grade and the giddy excitement we felt over our unique and one-of-a-kind friendship rings. My mother had made me pay for it with my own money. No doubt, she was dubious that our friendship would last forever, much less survive the highs and lows of high school and adolescence. As much as I hated to tap into my life savings, this ring was worth it. Friendship was the most important thing in my life. If I was going to spend my hard earned babysitting money, it might as well be on something that mattered.
I can’t remember when I stopped wearing the ring. Perhaps it was after one of the girls moved away to boarding school and drifted away from us or when the other friend moved to a higher social echelon than me during our high school years. I may have even taken the ring to college, but at some point just forgot to put it on. Because the friendship which conceived the ring no longer played a principal role in my life, I no longer needed to wear it. Other rings took its place. Other friendships crept into my heart. Putting the ring aside was not a malicious decision. Instead, it was a natural response to a new chapter in my life.
Finding the ring buried deeply, somewhere between other keepsakes, caused me to reflect on my history of friendship, starting with the two who wore this friendship ring and who also, at least at one point, held on to the same hopes and dreams as me. A little over a year ago, I officiated the wedding of one of these friends. Though I had moved away from home almost ten years before and did not talk frequently to friends from grade school, she had found a way to stay connected to many of our childhood companions. Being a part of her wedding was a homecoming in every sense. From elementary school teachers to high school mates, it seemed that she had reached out and gathered threads from all of our life seasons. I marveled at how she had nurtured relationships over great distances and somehow managed to bring us all together. Those few hours were a reminder that time and distance may scatter us away from one another, but the ties that bind us don’t ever totally fade away.
In a way, my mother was right about the ring. She had a longer perspective than me who was in the height of teenage drama. It was silly and childish to think that the three of us would be best friends forever. We aren’t. In fact, years have passed when we haven’t spoken at all. But, the older I get, the more I have learned that life seems to find a means to wrap itself back around in ways we don’t expect. A “facebook” message out of the blue or an appearance in a dream may prompt me to think of one or the other of these two friends, or even both. Sometimes it is with longing for a relationship that is no more, but other times it is with a feeling of gratitude. Ring or not, I can’t seem to purge our friendship from my heart. The love I felt at one time was too real to be erased for good. It lives on inside of me and on occasion, presents itself in a glimmer, helping me remember that even when forever ends up looking differently than I expected, nonetheless, all has not been lost. Something still remains.
I have had so many friendship necklaces, bracelets, t-shirts, shorts, and other assortment of objects, over the years, that I have lost count. They have all been attempts to make love between friends more certain and lasting than a mere invisible promise of the heart. Even now, in Afghanistan, I have been joking with a new friend about “friendship rings.” I happened to choose a ring at our local bazaar which is very similar to hers. I have taken quite a leap in quality from my days of 3 for $10.99 at Claire’s or even my specially designed ring, but I can’t help but admit that the sentiment is the same. I think I may even like the ring even more because of hers. I know, though she will be going home soon, every time I see it, I will pause and think of her and what our friendship represented to me in this season of my life. Even in our adult years, we cling to that which helps us remember, though friends come and go from our physical presence, something of them remains a part of us always, no matter how much time has passed or how far we have traveled.
The annals of our hearts are as expansive as we allow. There is always enough room. In moments of grace, we are recaptured by our memory and taken back to another place and time, into the presence of a love which we once knew well but thought we had lost. Forever is true even when it’s not what we thought it would be.