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    The friend who hung on

    A wiser woman than I taught me the value of staying in touch, despite life’s twists.

    Illustration by Gracia Lam

    SOMETIMES IT’S EASIER TO LET GO of friendships than to hang on. Thank goodness not everyone takes the easy way out. My friend Renee is a “hanger-on-er.” Not only does she have the endearing ability to cultivate friendships wherever she goes, she also hangs onto her friends for life. I, on the other hand, am pretty practiced at letting go.

    Two decades ago, Renee and I were neighbors in a Boston suburb where backyards blend together and front doors are only for show. We enjoyed the easy camaraderie that arises from proximity — we showed up on each other’s doorsteps looking for butter or Band-Aids or lawn-mower gas; after a time, we joined up for dog walks, a glass of wine, neighborhood news. We shared, in small increments, the stories and details of our lives. I got to know, vicariously, her extended family, and she got to know mine. We came to be part of the fabric of each other’s lives, the way those who share small intimacies do. Did I appreciate how valuable this effortless friendship was? Of course not.

    Three years after our friendship was launched, my husband, son, and I moved to New Hampshire to start a business. A year after that, Renee and her spouse moved to Vermont. Our lives diverged: I was preoccupied with a growing business and preparations for the arrival of our second child, and Renee’s life went into overdrive as she and her husband started a company of their own.


    With only subliminal intention, I began to let our friendship slide. Phone calls, e-mails, pictures, all required time and effort. Maintaining a long-distance friendship seemed a luxury. Like other friendships I’d had over the years, this one, too, seemed destined to survive only in the form of holiday cards and fond memories. Renee, however, unbeknown to me, was operating on her “for life” principle. She understood, in a way that I didn’t, that the crazy years are only short-term and there would come a time when a decades-long friendship would be priceless.

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    As fate would have it, Renee’s beloved dog died the same day my second son was born. This put us in opposite places emotionally, and I mustered only meager condolences. But Renee didn’t take offense or hold a grudge. She knew that long-haul friendships require equal parts love and forgiveness. This was not something we discussed; it was embedded in her nature, and to Renee, articulation would have seemed superfluous. It was only I who needed to catch on.

    Our relationship continued to be lopsided in the years to come. But gradually I started to appreciate that geography, time constraints, and different pursuits don’t have to stunt a friendship. Renee taught this by unwitting example, and luckily her patience was equal to her vision.

    My life is back to a steady rhythm now, and I’m able at least to try to give as much as I receive. I call, I text, I e-mail. We visit each other from time to time. We keep each other abreast of the regular flow of our lives, and when we are together, we take our dogs out and we catch up in the best possible way, discussing our families, our pursuits, and what’s wacky in the world. Sometimes, when we can’t get our schedules to align or after we’ve gone weeks without a real conversation, Renee will say, “That’s OK, because we’re going to be friends for life.” For life. I am amazed that this woman knows, has always known, instinctively, that when all is said and done, long-term relationships are the underpinning of our lives. Thanks, Renee, for hanging on.

    Ellen Goss Goldsberry is a writer in Weare, New Hampshire. Send comments to

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