I've always been a collector of things. Firstly it was special stones and sea shells gathered from the beach where we always holidayed when I was a child. In my dreams, my collection would end up bestowing a wall of my grown up house just like my elderly next door neighbour's garage wall. In reality, I ended up with a few trinket boxes covered with little shells and a shell covered wine bottle which was cunningly disguised as a beside lamp. I have no idea if the lamp ever worked but it seemed incredibly exotic to my young mind. I was very proud when a lady we knew kindly offered to polish and mount one of my most special stones. She made it into a pendant which I hung from a delicate silver chain. I put it into a little box and gifted to my mum for Mother's Day.
My attention was then drawn to postcards. Our elderly neighbours used to go on holidays and trips around the UK. The lovely old lady would always send me a postcard from her travels. I absolutely loved these little handwritten messages from exotic sounding places. My geography of the UK was formed from these colourful little photos. I came to learn that puffins lived in Lerwick, that Scarborough had a beach as well as a fair and that Jersey was an island with some kind of special cows that produced extra creamy milk. How I would anticipated the postman bringing me another one of these colourful little cards. I faithfully collected and categorised all these picture perfect images, sticking them carefully into albums. My vast collection earned me an incredibly rare Girl Guides badge. I don't collect postcards anymore but I always buy fridge magnets from places I visit on my travels. My love for travelling means that my magnet collection brightens up almost every metallic surface in my kitchen.
I began collecting people when I was very young. One of my earliest memories from school was being asked to befriend the new boy in our class. He would sit beside me in the school lunch hall. Our silent ritual of trying to hide the boiled potatoes and the veg under the unidentified meat become a true bonding session. I think our friendship was based on our mutual dislike of school lunches. In the class, he used to draw angry pictures using a thick unsharpened pencil in all his school books. He would press so hard on the pencil that he'd leave a hole in the paper. He didn't speak much, he preferred to focus on his drawings. The other kids in school just left him alone in his world of paper and pencils. I was happy to sit with him and watch him do his artwork although I never understood what he was drawing.
Then there was the twin girls at high school. They were loud, fierce and often in trouble with the teachers for causing fights with the other kids. I don't know how I became their friends. I knew that their untidy school uniforms and dirty finger nails were a symptom of their home live. I'd been to their house after school and I knew they mostly fended for themselves. Their mum was a lurking shadow, shuffling around from room to room. I could never understand why I she would be wearing her dressing gown at tea-time. She always had a cigarette hanging out the corner of her mouth and a half finished bottle in her dressing gown pocket. I knew the twins had to cook, clean and look after themselves most of the time. The other kids went out of their way to avoid them mostly to keep out of trouble. I suppose they couldn't see that both girls were kind, funny and nowhere near as angry as they seemed.
And so my collection of hearts grew as the years went on. My mum always welcomed my friends into our home and would make a space at the table for them. She used to joke that one day I'd bring home a friend who wasn't a waif or a stray. I'm not sure I ever did.
I wonder if I have always been drawn to the qualities of these colourful people such as their empathy, quirkiness and individuality. Or perhaps it was the fact their issues and problems were out in the open and transparent. Maybe watching how they dealt with their own issues helped me develop my own coping strategies as a way to handle my worries.
One thing I know for certain is that friendship is so important to me. Spending time sharing experiences with a treasured friend is such a joyful part of life. Knowing that I have a group of people close at hand to help me navigate the maze of my family life and my work commitments makes every day more bearable. A smiling face, a welcome cup of tea, a hug, a quick call or message from a good friend is sure to brighten up even the dullest day. My friendships are all formed through connections such as a common interest, a shared sense of humour or just coincidentally being in the same place at the same time. As I get older I have come to realise that some friendships are intense but short lived. This can be because circumstances change such as moving away or getting a new job. Naturally, the daily exchange of chat and interaction diminishes. I have often felt a bit dejected and lonely when this has happened to me in the past. Now I recognise the need to enjoy the people in your life while they are with you and to make the most of the cherished memories being made. These friends will be safely stowed away in my jar and hopefully we will will be blessed with many opportunities to be together once again.
My friends broadly speaking all have similar qualities - a lot of love in their hearts, empathy and compassion for others and an ability to laugh at themselves and at situations. It's not always easy to laugh in the face of adversity but it has certainly helped me get things in perceptive. Being able to truly listen to someone is one of the kindest things we can do for our friends especially in trying times when it can be difficult to be open and honest. Knowing that our thoughts and innermost feelings will be treated carefully is a precious gift from a true friend.
Online friendships have been such a joy to me especially over the last few months. My band of amazing #tweethearts probably know more about me than many of my real friends. I find it much easier to be open in my writing than I do person to person. I've found the support, love and empathy from my lovely #tweethearts has given me the courage to be brave and to open up a bit more to a few trusted friends. Not only has my increased openness helped me tightened the bonds between me and my closest friends, it's been a relief to unburden myself and to feel so loved.
Someone asked me recently what was the difference between a collector and a hoarder. This stopped me in my tracks and made me consider my collection of friends. I believe a collector wants to share his passion with others so that the beauty and worth of his collection can be appreciated and enjoyed. Indeed a collector takes pride in his collection so much so that he is willing to share his wares to benefit and help others. He truly wants others to get as much joy and pleasure as he has from his collection. He knows he is merely a custodian of his treasured possessions and he will gladly help others to form strong emotional bonds. And so it must be with friendships. Friendships shouldn't be exclusive or possessive. Friendships should allow others to grow, to strengthen, to flourish.
The hoarder on the other hand is not discerning about his collection. He will collect anything and everything just as long as he can possess it. He doesn't want to share his hoard with others - he selfishly hides it away so that others won't covet his wares. He's often not even that interested in the things he has hidden away. It might even become an unhealthy obsession. Thankfully I don't know many friendship hoarders.
True friendship is a lifelong celebration of the power of kindness.
True friendship is an affirmation of the power of love.
Cherish and love your own jar of hearts.