When your friends will be there for you
Not long ago a good friend of mine had an accident that left her knee to toe in plaster, on crutches and, when those proved too painful and ungainly to be of much real help, in a wheelchair for the duration of her plaster-incasteration.
It was a shoe-related incident, since you ask. She took a tumble over a new pair of wedges left by the side of her bed and landed awkwardly on the unforgiving tile floor of her French farmhouse. She broke her foot and tore a myriad of ligaments, and to this agony was added the outrage of knowing that she had never even worn the blasted shoes.
My friend lives in the middle of nowhere, an hour or so drive north-west of the French city of Toulouse. Sunflower fields surround her home. Wild boar and deer run in the woodlands. Relatively immobile and unable to drive, without her friends, she recently told me, she would have been stuck.
A few years back, before she left Britain for France, these were people whose paths she would never have crossed. Their lives were so disparate in every respect. Yet here they were opening her shutters in the morning and battening them down at night, going to the shops, pouring her drinks, reaching things on high shelves ...showing friendship in each practical act.
It got her thinking about friendship and how friends come to us in all different ways, for all different reasons. Some, as she put it, drift into our lives at an important moment and stay a short time; others, once there, remain a lifetime.
Either way it's easy to take them for granted amid the buzz and whirr of daily life.
Sometimes it is only when something gets broken, when life up-ends you and leaves you in a heap on the floor, that you are reminded, or learn, who your friends are.
Not all breaks show up on X-rays or come with a treatment plan and recovery schedule. One way or another things have been pretty broken and bent in my life of late; my married life, to be precise. Once defined by that union, it is now defined by its separation.
It is the sort of realisation that silences that daily buzz and whirr. Certainly it has reminded me, however brutally, how fortunate anybody is to have true friends.
For my part there is the friend who put me up in her spare room on a recent trip back to London, home for eight years prior to Abu Dhabi; who set aside hours to talk (often late into the night and with a fair degree of circularity on my part), veering between giggles and tears as only conversations between female friends can; who lay by my side on a patch of grass looking up at the stars, not offering platitudes or solutions but simply friendship.
There is the friend I met 15 years ago on the first day of my first "proper" job, a partner in crime through a string of glorious misadventures. Now all grown up, with a grown-up job to boot, she put considerable commitments on hold just to talk because a friend in need outranked everything else.
There are the university friends who reminded me of a past without anchoring me in it.
There are friends who have been in my life for decades and friends who have been there a matter of months - all remarkable women (and a couple of remarkable men too) conspiring to be the safety net you never knew you had, or needed, until you fall.
They are the friends who tell you you're worth it, however much you might not feel it when life has hobbled you. They are the friends who tell you that everything will be all right in the end - and that if everything isn't all right, then it isn't the end.
Laura Collins is a senior feature writer for The National.
Published: August 31, 2011 04:00 AM