Today, July 30, is the International Day of Friendship. The day is designed to bridge the gaps of race, color, religion, nationality, and other factors that keep people from forming and enjoying friendships with one another. It is meant to encourage dialogue, acceptance, and understanding between people of different backgrounds. Friendship matters. It can prevent war and promote peace. Research shows it can keep people healthier, happier, and living longer.
Having friends is a good thing. However, what defines a friend? What is friendship?
To me, friendship is a word as big as all relationships put together, yet as unique as any human pairing. In some ways “friendship” is as clear yet as ambiguous as the word “family”: Do you count only siblings or also cousins and nephews? Second cousins? Grand-nephews? In-laws? Third cousins thrice removed? Different people list family differently. Some define “immediate family” and “close family” versus “distant relatives” while others see all kin as kin. Can one argue that one person’s definition is more or less valid than another’s? Who decides who is or isn’t “family?”
Similar variability may be true for friendships, with different ‘kinds’ and types and closeness all jumbled under one rather all-inclusive word.
There are the friends you grow up with. The children of your parents’ friends, with whom you were ‘forced’ to spend time and sometimes had grown close to. The classmates and groups assigned by teachers. The bunkmates at camp, the teammates at sports. There are the neighbors you’d spent time with because they were the ones closest to toss a ball or take turns on the bike with after school. Among all those, some may have become your friends, some might have turned enemies, and a few may have grown to be as close as your own siblings. Maybe more.
Then there are the friends you make during life-changing matters: Military buddies you’d trust your life to; illness buddies who you know understand what other friends may not; the co-worker who had your back when a boss was unkind or another co-worker was out to get you; the neighbor who stepped up when the roof leaked in the middle of the night or who’d offered a safe place for you when they suspected you weren’t so in your own house.
There are also the passing friendships that may or may not continue beyond the moment of circumstance: Like the people you’d met on the cruise or were stuck in the airport overnight with during a storm. Or that single mom you’d helped give the bottle to the baby when the toddler had a tantrum and she hadn’t nearly enough arms for both. You got to talk, and sat together, and then exchanged numbers and never called each other but you still find yourself looking for her anytime you fly, and see her in every single mother flying with small children. She had become a friend. Inside your mind.
And friendships that turn into something more: Like the elderly man across the street on whom you checked after a storm and found out that he had no one to help him change a lightbulb and could no longer climb. And so you had, and stayed a moment longer while he shared a story from his life, and then you invited him over for dinner and he came wearing a suit and holding flowers from his garden … And he now comes to all your family’s holidays and get-togethers. Because he’s a friend now. Of the family.
And, of course, one cannot speak of friendships without those friendships that ARE family. The sibling who is also a best friend, the cousin one is close to, the partners one makes a life with and become both family and best-friends-for-the-real-forever.
So what are friendships? Maybe they are anything and everything we make them. With humans, with your furry friends. How we define them may shift and change, but the connection is recognizable.
How would you define friendships? What is a friend to you? If so inclined, will you comment below?
And on this day of international friendships and on every day: may your friendships be as fruitful and plentiful as you wish them to be. May they fill your life and heart with joy and meaning. May it be so and more.