THE GIFT THAT
KEEPS ON GIVING
I'm posting this early because I'll be away tonight...
12 April 2003
On one of my e-mail lists someone this morning asked for advice about sending
a birthday card. A friend with whom she'd had a rift was celebrating a birthday. The
friend is always a big one about sending cards for every event, and often complains that
she feels her relationships are one-sided and she has to do all the work. Yet the writer
of the message I read didn't know whether or not she should acknowledge the birthday by
sending a card.
"Expect nothing in return, not even any particular reaction. Give from yourself,
not for a result," came the response from another reader of the same list.
I could relate to the writer of the original message. There are people who have
disappeared from my life because it just became too much effort on my part to keep the
relationship going (let's call them the "C list" people). Messages were never
answered, all the contact seemed to originate with me, though things were always quite
cordial when I did go to the effort to make the first move. When I would decide to sit
back and find out if the other party would think about contacting ME first, they rarely
did. No--they never did. (Sometimes those people are at a distance; sometimes
they are here in this very town.)
There are other people (the "B list" people) who would have disappeared from
my life for exactly the same reason, but their friendship is important enough to me that I
keep making the first move. I keep sending cards, e-mails, making telephone calls. It's
always wonderful to have that contact again, even though the person on the other end might
not think about me again until I make the effort the next time--or if they do think of me,
it's too much work, apparently, to initiate an interaction.
And then there are other people (the "A list") in my life with whom there is
a regular give and take--we both write, we both send cards, we both work at keeping the
relationship alive. Those are the special relationships.
But it doesn't minimize how I feel about either the people who have disappeared from my
life or the people with whom a continuing friendship seems like beating my head against a
stone wall sometimes. (I am probably also a "B list" person in someone else's
life, I realize!)
It's not always easy being a friend of mine at a distance. I have always been a
voluminous writer, an obsessive "contact-er." I learned long ago not to expect
anybody to match me, letter for letter. Way back in grammar school years, I was writing to
Judy Lucchesi every day from my vacation and happy to receive one letter from her during
all the time I was away. I always try to let people know that I don't expect the same
volume from them that they get from me.
While it often saddens me that there are people who don't make the effort to work at
keeping a relationship going, the relationship is important to me, and so the
contact that I make with the "B list" people is almost a gift I give myself. I
write to say "I'm thinking about you," "You're an important person to
me." "I still value our friendship." The B-list person may not respond
frequently, but I'm always thrilled to have that contact again. To know that the
friendship is alive, even though we may go months-- sometimes years, perhaps--without
reaching out to touch each other. (And when we touch each other again, it will be because
I've reached a point where I miss that other person so much that I need to do the reaching