This project seemed easy when I started, but it got very challenging when I reached the friends I still spend a lot of time with. It's simple to sum up the things that aren't said to people I don't talk to often. Saying the things that aren't said to people I see all the time is tricky, because generally there's a reason those things aren't said.
For some of the people I wrote to - those deceased, or long gone from my life - I was looking for a sense of closure from saying these things. I've never really believed in or understood closure. I still don't, unfortunately. Defining and verbalizing my feelings is certainly helpful to me, but it doesn't make them go away. The unanswered questions stay unanswered. The lingering guilt, or shame, or anger, still lingers.
Although the process was much harder, and longer, for those still in my life, it also brought more rewards. Organizing, examining and expressing my feelings gives me the chance to figure out what I want to change, and what I want to reinforce. This essay structure takes a step back from immediacy, but offers the potential to open dialogue. Some of my relationships have improved greatly thanks to writing this series.
I didn't add anyone to the original list after I started. For one thing, I wanted to eventually reach the end! As I keep making friends, I could keep writing about my friends forever. For another, a lot of the essays could have ended up very similar, so I wanted to stick to people for whom I had something a little different to say.
For the most part all of them boil down to the same thing, though: I love you. That seems to be the hardest thing to say. These days, talking about love seems to be reserved mostly for the romantic pair-bonding sorts of relationship. It's all hearts and flowers and sex and commitment. We can talk about loving our families, that’s fine. We can say we love the cat, or chocolate, or America. It's even OK for me to say I love my friends, collectively. But when I say to a friend, "I love you," it gets a little awkward, if I'm not qualifying it or putting it in a context of "you just did something amazing for me." And I'm someone who does say it, and I'm not the only one in my group, but it still creates a funny pause in conversation. It's worse if I'm addressing someone I might potentially find attractive, and God forbid I should say it to anyone I'm actually interested in.
I think it lessens the meaning of friendship. So does the phrase "just a friend." Someone isn't "just" a friend if they share laughter and tears with me. They aren't "just" a friend if we spend holidays together. They're not "just" a friend when we take a road trip together. There is nothing insignificant or lesser about my friendships. My friends mean so much to me, so many things. I love you. I love you all. Even if I didn't address one of my essays to you, I love you. I love each person in my life a little differently. Some I love more, or less. Some I love as family, whether we're related or not. Some, yes, I do love in the romance-and-sex sense. No single aspect limits or prohibits other aspects of love.
We don't say it very often. And we lose, by that. I think that love, like thanks, can't be said often enough, but it can certainly be said too little. The worst is realizing when it's too late. In the almost seven years since I started writing, three of the people I wrote to have died, as well as another family member who wasn't on the list. Thankfully, I learned early enough what I needed to say, and I told all of them how much they meant to me. But what happens when you don't have time to prepare? What if you never brought yourself to say it?
Dear Friends - old friends, new friends, friends I've lost touch with, friends I've found again, friends I have yet to meet: You are part of me, of my life, of my heart. I love you.
#36 and final in a series, beginning here and listed here - and ended HERE!