At the end of September, 2001, I attended a wedding, on the groom's side. There I met a friend of the bride's. We got to talking, and took a walk for a bit, to get away from the bustle of the festivities. Rita and I are worlds apart — she's a devout Christian political conservative; I'm an atheist lunatic-fringe liberal. But we walked along a river in Georgia and tried to understand each other's views on what had happened in New York less than three weeks earlier.
I went back to New York, Rita to Virginia, and I've no idea why we kept in touch, given our differences and the fact that we only knew each other for a few hours. There was some spark of friendship that one can't really explain, which went beyond religion and politics. The wedding we'd both celebrated was short-lived, alas, but we've kept in occasional contact much longer, settling in, after a bit, to once a year — this time of year.
Lots of people use this time to stay in touch, filling others in on what's happened through the year. I get a few “Christmas letters” that tell me about vacations and jobs and children, joys and hardships, brief summaries of the past year from people I'm glad to hear from. I reply with email telling a little of what's happened to me over that year.
It's good, how that works. We have all different sorts of friends. There are the ones we see from day to day, always in our lives. There are the ones we see in certain contexts — work friends, hobby friends, the friends we run into at the supermarket. There are the ones who were part of our lives in the past, and we stay in touch over the distance. With the Internet, many of us have friends we've never even met, but with whom we've developed relationships anyway. And there are the ones we connect with once a year, still important to us as well.
Sociologists have spent a great deal of time studying social relationships among people. There's even been work on that in my field, using knowledge of social relationships to make computers help us collaborate better.
I'll just enjoy the fact that I have so many friends.
Making friends for the world to see
Let the people know you got what you need
With a friend at hand you will see the light
If your friends are there then everything's all right