Five and a half years ago, I attended my fifteenth college reunion, and sometime during the weekend, I admired my friend Giulia’s earrings. Giulia always has gorgeous jewelry, and this particular pair of earrings was made of green amber and silver. She gave them to me—for no particular reason, except that I expressed my love for them, and she loves me. I protested a bit, but she insisted that I take them. So I agreed to take them on loan, and over the next five years, I thought of her—of course—every time I wore them.
This past spring was an especially hard one, but it was also my twentieth college reunion, and I knew I needed to go, because my college friends are some of the dearest, steadiest, most beloved people in my life. And when I packed to head east, I made sure Giulia’s earrings were with me. I figured it was the obvious time to return them.
I’m not sure Giuls remembered that I had the earrings until I handed them to her, but when I gave them back, she proceeded to search through the jewelry she’d brought with her until she found this pair:
She decided I needed to take them home with me, and of course, this time I agreed. At Bryn Mawr, we like to joke that once we’ve done anything twice, it’s a tradition, and so Giulia and I have started our own little earring loan tradition. She picks a pair for me to borrow for five years, and I bring them back at the next reunion.
It’s difficult to put into words just exactly how much Giulia and all my other friends from college mean to me. I’ve thought of them pretty much every day since last May, and the energy of their love washes over me frequently. That love has always been there, ever since college, but I think something about this particular reunion marker really hit many of us hard, in the best possible way.
I had a moment during the weekend, in our class meeting, when I looked around the vividly familiar dorm living room, and saw all those vividly familiar faces—the faces of people who are incredibly close to me, and the faces of people I really barely know, except that I’ve “known” them in some way for the last twenty-four years. That’s more than half my life.
Faces you’ve known for more than half your life mean something—something significant. They may not be the faces of dear friends, and yet—they’re not at all strangers. They’re something more than community, even, though they’re certainly that. Perhaps they’re like an odd kind of extended family, people you feel connected to, people who share some vitally important part of your history, even if you really don’t know a whole lot about who they are, or what their daily lives are like.
And then there are the people who actually are my dear friends. I don’t know that there are really words that can adequately describe the feelings of nourishment, love, acceptance, gratitude, comfort, support that I receive from this group of people. They’re home to me.
I was stunned, several times during the weekend, to realize that these friends have always seen me, since I was seventeen, in ways that it took me many, many years to see myself. They knew what was in me and who I could be long before I did. Simply because they love me, and they were paying attention. I certainly hope I’ve been paying enough attention to be able to see each of them in such a deep way.
At the end of the weekend, a small group of us went for brunch at a local diner before dispersing to our separate parts of the world for another five years. (We’ve done this Sunday brunch thing at the last two reunions now, so you know what that means….)
I was sitting in the diner booth, stirring my coffee and listening to Giulia, who was sitting next to me and telling a story in her inimitable, animated, gorgeous, larger-than-life way. I turned to look at her, and it took my breath away. Every bit of her was so familiar and dear—her beautiful face and smile, her mannerisms, her speech patterns and laugh. I know them so well that I can call them to mind in a heartbeat. Just thinking of her calms me, makes me feel loved and joyful and lucky.
And I’m incredibly fortunate. Because Giulia isn’t the only friend I feel this way about—I have a whole pile of friends like that where she came from. And I won’t list them here—I’ll let Giuls stand in for them all—but I trust they know who they are. And I hope they know how very, very, very much I love them.