The Friendship Circle

It’s only when you stop and think do you realise just how many people you’ve left behind in life. The vast majority of contacts and acquaintances cross paths with us for such short periods of time that it just doesn’t seem important, and to be honest, it probably isn’t on the whole. It really is only a very small minority who are friends for longer periods. Friends move on. It really is rare to hold onto a friend for 20 odd years…

It’s this analysis that makes me wonder. Today I have just worked my last day in the primary school. I am quite sad about this as it’s been a fantastic nine weeks of my summer. It’s given me something to do, something to work for, and been such a great experience for me. During that time, I got to know many tens of teachers, and quite literally hundreds of children. Nearly 450 people in all, whose lives I have crossed paths with… and, in the grand scheme of life, just for a fleeting few moments.

But what of it? Friends make life bearable, and to me, children make life worth living. Yet all of these people, who I have got on extremely well with, have now been left behind. Our paths have diverged once again. No more of the Connors, the Michaels, the Charlottes, the Lauras, the Rachels, the Sophies, the Adams, the Jacks… all gone. Our lives are relatively unlikely to cross again, you would think. Of course, there is the usual Small World phenomenom, which I actually am looking forward to when I can say, “I used to listen to him/her read to me in school” … but in reality, chances are I won’t know anything of all these people again.

The simple fact of humanity is that it’s not that we don’t want to have hundreds of friends we can call upon at the drop of a hat. It’s that we cannot. We are not physically able to be in touch with so many people, much as we’d like to. I would love to have taken the phone numbers and e-mail addresses of all the teachers I said goodbye to today, because it would be interesting to know how they’re getting on a few years down the line. But the sad part of it is that either a) they don’t, or, worse, b) by then they have been replaced with new friends, and so, basically we don’t care any more.

And that’s the point. Friends are endlessly and ceaselessly replaceable. A lot of this goes on without us even knowing it. When I left Hull nine weeks ago, I didn’t really think I was saying goodbye to many of my friends forever. And yet, that is exactly what I have done, without even noticing it was happening. I have become so used to my friends going and being replaced that now when they disappear it is beginning to become second nature to me.

It just becomes something accepted in life in the end, something adults don’t often notice, perhaps only when they move from one job to another. Yet, when you’re a kid, it is one of the worst upheavals possible. I looked at the poor Year 6 kids today and in their leaver’s assembly yesterday, watching the tears flowing, and I think back to how I felt when I left the school gates for the last time, and it simply is one of the worst feelings imaginable. Such a massive hole, a gaping loss, and a sense of “what’s going to happen now?”. The feelings combine to force many a tear to be shed. Especially when you consider that a child in Year 6 has likely known their peers for seven years, and then they say goodbye to them…

I can now count the number of friends I’ve had for seven or more years and still count them as friends on one hand.

There simply is nothing quite like school. It is the biggest social experiment, engineered by society, that any of us goes through. That transition to secondary school makes you more of a real person, because it demonstrates to you, probably for the first time, that people and friends are not forever. That life is far more complicated than it seems.

Life has to move on. We may not want to move on with it, but if you don’t, you tend to get left behind. Very easily. Friends are easy come, easy go. I’ve just had a damn good clearout of them… and while I’m sad to see them go, I just know that there was no other option, and that I’m resigned to it. They all have their own lives to lead. They will soon be replaced by new, fabulous people. It is a necessary process of life to conduct this sub-conscious pruning of the address book – there’re just not enough hours in the day to care about what happens to even a tiny fraction of all those people we encounter for more than just a moment of eye-contact.

It all sounds so utterly selfish. That’s because it is – the process itself is ruthless in its effectiveness and its efficiency, in order to keep us sane. But there really is nothing else we can do about it. Yet we shouldn’t feel bad about it. While the overall process may be selfish, the mechanisms with which it operates can be much less so. After all, no one makes friends through being a selfish, heartless bastard. So we must be doing something right to have friends in the first place. Just that, in the end, they all have to go to keep our lives – and we are the only ones who have “our” own life, so it is inherently selfish – ticking over.

So goodbye to the Connors, the Michaels, the Charlottes, the Lauras, the Rachels, the Sophies, the Adams, the Jacks and the others of this world. Good luck to them in their future. They’re all great people, but, ultimately, only they can look after their own lives. And I’ll keep looking after mine.

Sad, isn’t it?

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