Right now, at any one of thousands of Girl Scout meetings across the world, young women are sitting in a circle and singing in sweet, high voices: “Make new friends, but keep the old/ One is silver, the other is gold.” In the blur of teenage angst and the frantic rush of young adulthood, many of those young women will go on to make new friends. They will inevitably lose touch with their troop mates.
I was one of those girls. The past couple of years have made me realize that I’m now both old and fortunate enough to have friends that span all phases of my adult life. But something incredible has happened of late: Some of those golden friends from my Girl Scout days have reappeared. Sometimes the person who knew you first feels like the one who knows you best.
Decades later, we’re reaching for each other through seismic career changes, divorces and serious illness, facing the enormity of losses that were unfathomable when we sang those songs. We’ve found comfort in reconnecting at the center of the two pieces of bread that comprise the sandwich generation; we are pressed between the needs of aging parents and active children.
As we dash into Christmas, with the magnetic north of family and tradition pulling many of us home, the reminders of the past are all around us. I find myself trying to slow down and focus on how it felt to sit in a circle of friends and listen to the gentle timbre of our youthful voices, rising and falling together. These salvaged memories are true and sweet: How could I forget the girl who sold so many cookies that she shared her riches with the rest of us, making sure we all won backpacks and badges?
Fast-forward past those days, though, and memories of the awkward and competitive worlds of middle school, high school and college take hold. Nothing was safe from judgment, especially Polo shirts, Pappagallo purses and new boyfriends. It turns out there’s a beautiful gift of being in our 40s: That old judgment largely falls away. I look at these lifelong friends and remember them now in shiny braces and cable-knit knee socks. I look at my younger sistermy first friendand see her whole life, how it’s made her into a brilliant painter and mother. I know these women see me, too, as the shy and solemn girl in a green Girl Scout uniform with the hem rolled twice. With those memories, we honor each other with the gifts of trust, forgiveness and, above all, shared experience.
This Christmas, my loved ones will gather over buttermilk pie, corn pudding and the carols my daughter can now play on the piano. I’ll be sure to give thanks for friends, both silver and gold, and remember to tell them: “A circle is round, it has no end/ That’s how long I will be your friend.”