In the echoing
Of the gnawing
For the day
For The Daily Post
In the echoing
Of the gnawing
For the day
For The Daily Post
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.
My niece took this photo of a boy and his dog several years ago in Charleston, North Carolina. Then and now, it feeds my heart and gladdens my soul. The ageless, timeless, wordless friendship it conveys, the togetherness that needs no explanation, the calm connection of this shared experience, the gentle trust. I can almost feel the soft undulation of the water under the bow, the relaxed balance of both child and canine, the subtle breath of breeze, the deep contentment of the moment, the beauty of the day.
There are a few things so precious as knowing one is seen, heard, known, accepted, cherished.
And no matter what or when or how or what else is most certainly going on that may well take front seat and burner.
Few things are as real to the core of one’s heart and to the moon and back again.
When I forget, in the bustle of the day-to-day annoyances and to-do lists and in the boggy mess of worry and all manner of variegated helplessness … I remember.
A card from a dear friend who is no longer here in physical form, and who even as she struggled to find light at the end of the already quite dark tunnel of the illness that would soon after claim her life, still held the thought and found the energy to send me this.
A transcript of caring.
“I think life is moving too fast. I can’t keep up.”
My friend’s face on the chat’s screen was drawn. She has been through some hectic times. Her father fell and broke his hip two weeks before, cascading into issues that required not only the logistical reorganization of everyday life from an independent elder to someone who would not be likely to return to his home of 60 years; but also the emotional and psychological support for both herself and her father at this sudden change. An active retiree, her father was usually out and about, fishing, carpentering, flirting with a few old ladies at the retiree club he frequented. My friend lived only 15 minutes away, and visited often, but he rarely asked for her help. When he did, she suspected it was more as a point of connection and to let her “feel needed” than due to actual need for her assistance.
One burnt light-bulb later, and it all changed.
Life’s pace for both of them shifted. Her father’s life turned mostly idle, his days passing with him sedately in his bed, or at most in a wheelchair. Where he had counted months and weeks and days in plans and projects; he now counts hours as he waits for meals, physical therapy, and his daughter’s calls and visits. For my friend, life sped to calculating minutes into which to fit things. She juggles her job and two children, her home and preparing it for winter, the recent flooding of her basement, coordinating the care for her father, orthodontist appointments for one son, college applications for another, all while trying to manage the stress and grief and worry without losing so much sleep that she is no good in the morning.
Things do not let up. Her father is to be discharged from the nursing home very soon, and he will need a long term placement where he could continue to get care now that other systems in his body have decided to give in to old age. To top things off, she just found out there is a problem with her car that will require her to leave it for repairs for several days. The logistics of a simple car rental outdid her just the night before.
“I can’t keep up,” she stated, sadly shaking her head.
“Maybe you don’t need to–or at least, not with everything,” I suggested.
She glared at me a moment. Then her eyes softened–she knows I understand a bit about overwhelm. “How?” she asked, voice shaking now, maybe with just a hint of hope that there can be a way off of the roller-coaster and into calmer rides. “How, when it all needs to get done …”
We brainstormed, and she realized that she had accumulated quite a few vacation days. The original plan was to use the lot for a cross-country trip with her kids–and her father–but these plans may well change some anyway. It could do more good to take some of those days now. Even three days off would give her time to check out retirement-homes in the area without the stress of rushing from work to try and get catch administrators before they left for the day. It would allow her to learn more about the financial and logistical burdens her father will now face and what support can be made available. No less importantly–a few days off will give her just a bit of time for herself.
She decided to take four, luxuriating in the concept of creating time.
The realities to juggle did not change but her pace did. She found a way to slow it just a tad to give herself some sense of traction. Renting that car no longer seemed so daunting. She laughed that she would see if they had one in red, just because she always wanted do drive one that color. She friend relaxed just knowing there’d be an opportunity to catch up, pay bills, cook everyone’s favorite fall stew, drink her coffee sitting down, take a bubble bath.
“I forget,” she noted before we hung up our Skype connection. “I think so much about making sure everyone else has time to decompress, that I get squashed and do not notice until I am frantic.”
“So many of us do,” I told her. “I think this is where we can hold a mirror for one another and remind each other how to find a better pace.”
I am no longer worried about my friend. She found her balance, as she had helped me find my own once in a while. We do that for each other, calibrating pace.
Life rushes. We all rush on, attempting to catch up … But for today, may you find your best pace. A place to pause, a breather in the midst of life’s amazing and yet often tiring long race.
“I have a best friend!” he announced.
The little boy was a tad breathless from climbing up the stairs, but also from the excitement of the news he had to share and what it meant to him.
“You do!” I grinned. This was the first time I saw him since the summer break, and evidently this was the highlight of the boy’s current experience.
“Yes! His name is Andy and he is in my class and he has a sister and he is my best friend … my BEST-friend!” Breath, breath, grin, “we’re even the same tallness!” (delighted sigh)
“You are best friends and you are the same height?” I smiled. His joy was absolutely infectious. “This is super cool!”
I am yet to meet a child who is not delighted in friendship though it is harder to come by for some than for others. This little one had it the more challenging way. Always the smallest in his class in stature, always a tad behind in understanding, two seconds slower to get to an answer, a bit clumsy, a little late to catch a joke or ball … Remnants of the difficult beginning of his life and the deprivation that his brain endured to oxygen and possibly nutrition even before he was born; remainders of the excess of chemicals that no developing neurology should have to be exposed to. Alcohol. Narcotics. Who knows what more.
A heart the size of the Pacific, and a soul to light the universe and yet … friends did not come easy to this boy. Somehow groups formed to his exclusion. Somehow best-friends paired up without him. Most children were not unkind, just egocentric, and he was just odd enough, slow enough, different enough, to fail first-choice.
“Andy’s a total doll,” the boy’s adoptive mother confirmed. “They have been inseparable all summer. They are exactly the same height, by the way … They met at summer camp,” she paused, letting me understand. The summer day camp my little client went to was geared especially to include those who had some challenges: children whose difficulties may be invisible to most and yet no less compelling; children with sensory integration issues, with language and attention and learning and a-little-slower-on-the-uptake issues; children who often found it a little harder to keep up … or to make and keep friends.
“Yea!” the little boy jumped in, “and then he came to my class and he was new but I already know him so we are each other best-friends!”
How perfect. For once this boy–so often the follower and tag-along–was let to lead … even if he was to be a shepherd for one (for now …). For once he knew more about something or someone than others or was at the very least aware enough of it. For once he did not have to compete because the connection was already made during the summer and seamlessly continued from day-campers to schoolmates.
“Other kids can be his friends,” he noted sagely, “I have other friends, too, and some of them want to be his friends also. That’s okay. But Andy and me … we are best-friends anyway.”
Heart the size of the Pacific. Soul that lights the Universe. Eyes that twinkle to the Gods.
This little Andy, he got lucky. He got himself the best best-friend there was.
A little boy on the street this morning: “Mommy, when can I have a play-date with Bobby and Martin?”
Mommy: “You just did on Sunday. Don’t you remember? In the park?”
Little guy: “Yeah, but its already more before than yesterday!”
Mommy (chuckling): “Okay, let me call Bobby’s mom and see if you can play with him later this afternoon or tomorrow.”
Little guy (pedagogically admonishing): “Martin, too, Mommy! We’re friends together!”
Ah, friends together! Best friends are immensely and unquestionably lovely, but in my view–and this little guy’s clear statements–the third wheel theory is wildly overrated. Philosophically speaking, a third wheel can indeed offer an extra level of stability … Truth be told, there’s nothing quite like triple decker fun: gales of laughter multiplied, mischief bubbling like a shaken soda-bottle … Not too few and not too many (and if you’re a skipping gal, enough for double-dutch!)
I can see then in my mind’s eye. Three little fellas: this curly top boy, Bobby, and of course, ‘friends together’ Martin … There they go, conquering the playground and marshaling a bench for headquarters. The Three Musketeers. The Trio. The Triple Besties.
Come to think of it–when is the last time you got together for a tricycle of laughter. How long has it been since you had a play-date of ‘friends together?’
I know it’s been a while for me, and overdue for some revision. How about you?
Three’s company. Pick up the phone. Do not delay. Go play!
The pre-teen shows up to session looking distracted.
She is usually beaming and rearing to tell me about small successes and upcoming weekend fun. When I ask her if everything is alright, she just nods absentmindedly (and not too convincingly) and bites her lips in indecision. I give her a moment, busying myself with some papers in her work-file that don’t quite need sorting but keep my gaze elsewhere.
“Can someone be your friend and not your friend at the same time?” she finally asks.
“I guess it depends. Be your friend and not your friend at the same time, how?” I respond, not wanting to assume I understood what she was referring to and preferring to give her the opportunity to explain.
“Hmm …” she nods, pauses. “I mean, like if your friend is, like, sometimes behaving like your best friend and all and you hang out together and all that and sometimes she’s mean or just ignores you or, like, goes with other people, or says things about you that are secret. Stuff like that.” Color rises in her cheeks and her eyes get bright with unshed tears.
“That is a tough one.” I state gently. “I guess I’d try to have a heart-to-heart conversation with that friend, to see what is going on.”
The girl looks startled. “But what if she never wants to be my friend anymore?” she blurts.
“Well …,” I pause, “if it were you, would you want a friend to tell you if she felt that there was something wrong between you two?”
“Yeah, but …” she begins, hesitates, “… she’s not like that.”
“How is she, then?”
“She … she’s real popular …” blush rises higher. “She’s really pretty and smart and everyone wants to be her friend …” she looks down.
Children know that wanting to be liked by popular classmates is not the best friendship seeking reason to admit to adults … However, the reality remains that popularity matters, and that especially at that age the social hierarchy easily translates into all manners of self-acceptability and relative self-worth. Whether one follows the ‘most popular’ crowd or not, it is difficult to not yearn to be among the ‘chosen few’ of the perceived best clique and the popularity it bestows.
“… you see, she doesn’t need me to be her friend. I just try to ignore it if she’s mean because if I told her it was not okay or to not share private stuff and such, she’d just like, walk away and not be my friend anymore … and her friends won’t either …”
“I see,” I note. “This does feel like it would be a tough spot. Though it does make me wonder what kind of a friendship it is if someone ignores you if you tell them what you think or feel.”
She nods, picks at a chipped piece of nail-polish on her ring finger. It is dark blue, not the usual pastels that this girl seems to prefer. I have a guess why this color now, but I keep it to myself. I give her another moment. Kids need time to formulate their feelings into thoughts, let alone to get their courage up to share what may bring critic from adults or have them feel vulnerable.
“She likes dark blue, you know,” she adds, quietly picking at the nail-polish. “She said that all her friends like it, too, because it is the coolest …”
“Hmmm… ” I offer, my hunch confirmed.
“I don’t think she’s a very good friend,” the girl whispers, then looks up at me, confused by her own words and their implications. “But … but how can she not be a good friend and be so popular? I mean, everyone wants to be with her and get invited to her sleepovers or stuff so doesn’t this mean she is nice?”
“Good question,” I respond. “There are all kinds of reasons people can be popular and why others want to be close to them: sometimes it really is because they are nice and fun to be with, and other times it may be because they are famous, or rich, or can get them things, or it makes those who are allowed to be with them feel important …”
“She’s the prettiest girl in the whole grade!” she interrupts me, “… she has the coolest clothes and a whole walk-in closet in her own suite at home and they even have a movie room with a popcorn machine in it.” She blushes again. “She’s really pretty,” she adds quietly, “but I don’t think I actually like her … it is just … that it feels nice to be in the popular group and have other girls know you are cool and stuff …”
She looks up at me then, decisive. “Maybe I don’t need to be her friend,” she says. “I mean, I don’t hate her or anything, she’s not like, horrible. She can be nice sometimes … but sometimes she doesn’t care … and she tells secrets like they are jokes and it’s not really funny. I don’t like that. My friend Brianna is different. We always have fun and I can tell her things and she won’t tell on me. I think Brianna is a good friend for real.”
She smiles back, then spreads her hands on the table and looks at her dark blue fingernails. “And you know what? I don’t like this stupid dark blue color, either. It is nice on Alison, but my hands like light purple better …”
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