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The Gifts of Friendship

Love is like the wild rose-briar, friendship like the holly-tree—

The holly is dark when the rose-briar blooms: but which will bloom most constantly?“ Emily Bronte

I’ve been blessed over the years with many affectionate friendships that bloom constantly. One of my cherished friends, Elinor, died about two years ago, just shy of her 80th birthday. Before she died, she gave me the enchanting painting you see here.  Every day, it reminds me of her humorous wisdom and love of nature.  

Years ago, when I was at a low period in my life, Elinor shared some of her wisdom.  I’d become obsessed with looking younger and wanted to dye my hair or rejuvenate my skin: tighten up the sags and bags now becoming obvious on my face. 

One day as I was complaining to Elinor about my growing dissatisfaction, she – from her wiser,  perspective as a woman 20 years my senior – told me a story. 

She had been in her forties, ready to date again but felt painfully shy about putting herself out there as an older woman. She began exploring how to look younger, as many women do from time to time in this youth obsessed culture, me included.  

Significant life events such as her recent divorce, her daughter leaving home a few years earlier and her mother’s death had all contributed to a new fear of growing old and a heightened awareness of her own mortality. 

However, instead of a face lift, she joined a gym and bought some new clothes. In her own version of Eat, Pray, Love, she went on a trip to Italy, found new joy in painting once again, and eventually, met the man who would become her husband. Like her, he was interested in connection, travel and fun and not worried about how she looked. 

Now I am the same age Elinor was when she shared that story. I still struggle with my aging process but I have the good fortune to do so, which not everyone does. Today, I can’t always recall simple words but I no longer immediately assume I’m developing dementia.  And, after years of robust health, I’m slowly learning to accept the aches and pains of getting older. 

But I still get to do so many things I love. For example, I’m taking a long imagined kayak trip on Lake Superior this summer. Although I kayak each year, often for a week or more, until recently I’ve had the strength of youth to draw on. Now I have to prepare more! So, I’m back at the gym building the power I will need. 

Elinor told me another story that happened years ago, when she was 65 and still vigorous, walking miles daily. A young man offered to help her cross the street at a busy road.  At first she felt a rush of anger, but then thought that maybe he couldn’t tell a 65-year-old from a 90-year-old at first glance. Her natural good humour reasserted itself and she laughingly accepted his arm. “I guess I really am older”, she thought to herself. 

Elinor was a generous woman who loved to laugh and lived in gratitude right to the end of her life, even when she was struggling to draw each breath. 

So I, too, cultivate gratitude every day, for things such as the red-tailed hawk returning to nest this spring with its distinctive, harsh cry. 

I give thanks for the many rich gifts I have received – and continue to receive – from dearly loved friends who are as constant as holly trees.


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