In the past few weeks I've made new friends. People who live all over the world - in four different countries - as well as a few new ones here in the states. It's been a long time since I've met new people I have a sudden and strong connection with. I had begun to think I'd outgrown the ability to make such quick, almost instinctual bonds with people - grown too cynical to allow myself to have faith in a stranger, to grow attached to someone new.
When you've lost many people who are close to you, caring can become a risky proposition. Allowing yourself to become very attached to anyone new seems unnecessarily reckless. Every person you let yourself love is another person you will lose. Funny how I remember the fears I had as a teenager - to grow attached was to risk that someone else would hurt me by rejecting me. Now I simply worry about those I love being safe, being well. For the past few years to add to that burden was unthinkable.
I attended a work conference last week. I had made a few connections via online networking in advance, so I was looking for a few faces that might register or be vaguely familiar after gazing at the icon that had represented them to me for the month preceding my trip. Perhaps there is a kinship to working in a similar field, but I also think sometimes you just know a kindred spirit right away (how very Anne Shirley of me, no?). The first night there I introduced myself to a few strangers, had drinks in the hotel bar, passed time as one does when far from home and surrounded by unfamiliar people. Then one of the people I'd had brief contact with online showed up. Our brief exchange online had left me expecting someone with a sense of humor not unlike my own, a sharp mind, someone I was likely to get along with. Perhaps it was seeing anything familiar after a lonely afternoon, but as I introduced him to the group I had gathered with in the bar there was this immediate feeling of comfort. My introduction read so clearly as, "This is my friend."
Some of my reaction to the people I met is, certainly, that I was fortunate enough to meet some genuinely special people. I am delighted to be keeping in touch with several people I met there and feel an increasing sense of community as we maintain contact. But it was also a striking and much needed reminder that I am not done. The world is still huge and full of interesting and wonderful people. I am not too old, too damaged, too cynical to make a new friend. To care about people who hadn't existed for me just days prior.
The week involved listening to a great many speakers, trying to soak up far more information than I feel I could ever manage in just a few days and being exposed to so many new ideas. The first morning I walked into a conference room filled primarily with strangers and sat down next to an old friend. Who I had met the night before.