This column is dedicated to friends. Old friends. New friends. New friends who will one day be old friends. Family you’d chose as friends. Best friends. Casual friends. Facebook friends. Editor friends I’ve never met. Peripheral friends. Understanding friends. People you casually encounter who may not be friends (yet) but feel like they are. You all are golden.

I learned this recently, out of necessity.

I don’t consider myself a dependent person — quite the opposite. Most of the time I’m pretty indy (read: mom cool). Some of this can be chalked up to my heritage. I come from people who lived months in a frozen climate. This may have led to intimate cuddling and large families, but mostly it led to long months of isolation due to the frigid temperatures. This created a toughness and resiliency known as “cold nose, warm heart.”

My ancestors’ hearts may have been warm, but the rest of their bodies were not, hence the large parkas and extra blankets. It’s difficult to hug through a puffy parka and billowing blanket. Take it from my great grandparents.

Move ahead a couple of generations and you can ascertain I didn’t grow up in a “huggy” family. We were more than loving. I never doubted that. But hugs? You might see them at funerals and weddings. If we said, “I love you,” once we meant it; why repeat words that didn’t need repeating?

Love brings me back to the subject at hand: friendship.

I don’t take my friends for granted. Or maybe I do. Maybe I did. Facebook sort of makes that easy, doesn’t it? We can even pause our friends for 30 days if they displease us in some way. Not sure what we should make of that, even in an election year.

Speaking of years, has 2020 not been the bomb — in a masked and morbid atomic sort of way? I truly thought it couldn’t get any worse, and then it did.

I don’t want to go into details because I try not to be too personal about things (while being as personal as I can be — go figure).

I found myself in a situation where I really, truly, honest to goodly needed my friends. During COVID. #maskawareness

How do you reach out during a pandemic? You just do. How do you ask for help? You just do.

At first I tried to tough it out. It’s hard to be vulnerable, even with friends. I didn’t want to jump to conclusions or burden people with my plight. But I grew weary. After a time I contacted a few select friends and my sister (who qualifies as a lifelong friend).

I am a hold-it-to-the-vest person. I don’t often show my cards. I probably should have been a professional poker player. So, reaching out to others at a down time in my life was difficult.

Luckily I’ve chosen good friends, or perhaps they were chosen for me.

After the last few weeks I feel fortunate for the support received. I’m surrounded by people who care unconditionally.

This column is dedicated to friends – and family who feel like friends – who provide support during some of the most difficult times of life.

My advice: cherish the people who have your back no matter what. Cherish those who give and give (and give some more) without asking anything in return.

Cherish old friends and new friends, sisters and brothers, sons and daughters. Trust your gut. Talk to the people who hear you and honestly listen. Break free from those who don’t; that may happen. There will be surprises along the way. There were for me. Good ones and even the opposite.

Finally — never take anyone for granted. Not your friends. Not your family. Never, ever anyone you hold dear to your heart. It’s hard to operate under that pretense, because it’s hard to not take things (or people or life) for granted. Don’t beat yourself up if you do. It’s the human condition.

Take each day as it comes. Try to see the good and the gifts and (dare I say) miracles. They are there for the taking — even on the worst and most teary-eyed days. And even if you don’t come from a hug-filled background, go against the grain. Hug away. You won’t regret it. I’m speaking from the heart as well as experience. Trust me.

And to the friends of mine out there: It goes without saying, I’m sending you love and lots (and lots) of hugs.

— Pertler is an award-winning syndicated columnist, published playwright, author and member of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. Don’t miss a slice; follow the Slices of Life page on Facebook.

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