Friends.

In the era of Facebook the term has taken on a whole new level of meaning.

Friend me! How many friends do you have? Can we be friends? If you are friends with these people, you might be friends with this person!

Sure, we’re friends… I think we are, anyway.

But if I run into you unexpectedly in the grocery store, will we chat? Or will we play an awkward game of “I didn’t see her, did she see me?”

It happens. And this level of friendship often leaves me feeling cold, exposed, lost.

But true friends? They are rare.

Back in the days of badly-cut bangs, crooked teeth shackled into braces and pants that flooded when growth spurts hit we gathered friends like stones in our pockets – neighborhood friends, school friends, friends from church. Some were sharp and enticing because they were different than the others. But often time caused those jagged edges to leave scars, and those ill-fitting stones have long since been tossed aside, sometimes in grand fashion – as one would pitch a stone into the Grand Canyon.

Friendships for a season or two, at best.

Some stones we gathered were in fact smaller than the others, falling through our fingers over small indiscretions or the misunderstandings that happen when we are young, foolish, maybe hurt.

But the shiny, smooth stones? Some started with jagged edges that have been worn smooth over the years. Others were smooth from the very start – from the first moment we said hi, what’s your name, where do you live, want to play?

Those are the keepers.

I have a group of these friends. Friends from way back in junior high and all the way through high school. We were a loosely-gathered bunch during those years, not always together all at the same time. We traded sweaters, secrets and besties – and shared a few crushes along the way. Some of these ladies have known each other even longer.

About 20 years ago we reconnected as a group and bridged the gap from being 12 to being middle-aged women. We don’t attend each other’s family gatherings, don’t send birthday cards to our children or even talk on the phone much. But our connection is instant when we see each other, starting right where we left off.

When we first reconnected we started small, gathering those of us who were local for dinner and catching up. Every year – sometimes twice – we would attempt to gather again and catch each other up.

It was nice, something I always looked forward to.

Then we started planning weekend trips for the “milestone” years. We celebrated our 40th birthday year in Capitola, our 50th in Napa. Long weekends, lots of laughs and memories shared.

But this year we all turned 55 – and we leveled up.

Not in destination (Capitola again) but in depth. There was laughter beyond belief and giggles into the wee hours. We shared stories of sadness and success, of life-changing diagnoses and life choices made. Changes of direction, of purpose. I came away from this weekend energized, my soul fed by each and every one of these old friends.

Eight friends, 20 kids between us, 220 years of marriage (all original spouses).

There are no words for a group of talented, funny, amazing women who share your love for ‘80s rock, for a nice Chardonnay or a hilarious story about something your teenager did. Who remember you at your worst, yet still cheer you on. People who accept you for who you are now, who you were then – and who you will be in the future.

Sometimes when you find your smooth stones, you don’t realize it at the time. You let distance and time and the obstacles of life get in the way. But if you make it happen, they will come back into your life – just when you need them the most.

And I will carry these seven shiny stones in my heart forever.