“Faithful friends are a sturdy shelter: whoever finds one has found a treasure. Faithful friends are beyond price; no amount can balance their worth.” (Sirach 6:14-15)
I’ve been blessed with many friendships in my life, and fortunate circumstances have allowed me the most interesting of connections, so wide and varied as the stars in the heavens, with people of different backgrounds and beliefs, in every corner of the world.
Throughout the years, I’ve stayed in close contact with many of them- even those from whom I’m separated by oceans- sending and receiving stories and pictures that follow the progression of our lives. Triumphs and tragedy flow like a current between our hearts and minds, as time brings change and washes through the detritus of life.
If I examine the nature of the friendships that have sustained, I find, regardless of their diversity, they all have one element in common: admiration. Which is to say, I admire each of these people in some fundamental way and seek out their company to build that strength in myself. The best connections – professional, personal, or romantic- are the ones that bring out the very best in us, that make us more the person we endeavor to be.
Maya Angelou had it right when she said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” It’s remarkably easy to evaluate the quality of a friendship by how that person makes you feel- good ones leave you with a sense of time well-spent and a life enriched. The very best leave you feeling that you’re a better person for having met them.
The qualities I love in my friends are wildly diverse; no two friendships have quite the same basis. One friend exudes patience and faith of the highest degree, another has a bold charisma I could never replicate. Yet another is older and more worldly, with experiences and wisdom that she shares- couched in humor and an “I suffer no fools” attitude. I adore them all.
My oldest friend has seen me in every circumstance of life and loves me because, or perhaps in spite of those moments. I recently got a request to write a letter of support to her as she participated in a church retreat- a surprise to be given to her as the weekend came to a close. I pondered this; after nearly 40 years of friendship, what could I say that could come close to conveying the space she holds in my heart? We have a unique connection, I think, and one that does not come around often; I would guess that some people never experience the kind of closeness we’ve been lucky enough to have. Despite the fact that we’ve had struggles, and time, and distance as barriers, somehow our friendship has persevered and managed to grow as our lives have changed and progressed. It’s pretty remarkable, and I attribute so much of that to her spirit of generosity and forgiveness on my behalf. She has spent a lifetime making me laugh, drying my tears, and lifting me up in more ways than can be imagined.
In the end, the message I penned essentially came down to this: “I consider your friendship one of the greatest gifts in my life, which I don’t say often enough, because it’s difficult to communicate the feeling behind those words.”
We should count ourselves very lucky to get even one friendship like this in our lives. They don’t come around every day; in fact, I long believed that the friendships forged in childhood held the strongest bonds. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy; as a woman in my 20’s and 30’s, I had neither the time nor inclination to delve deep enough into someone to know them on a fundamental level. I was too consumed with the process of simply living- working, maintaining a marriage, raising children. Friendships were formed on the basis of circumstance or convenience, and most never progressed past the surface level.
Plus, to be perfectly honest, forming friendships as an adult was hard. It was difficult to open myself up, to admit to weakness and failings I’d rather no one saw, to discuss fears, and dreams, and goals. Doing those things makes you vulnerable- but not doing them makes you… lonely.
There is an aspect of friendship that stands alone in the world of relationships. We love our husbands, our parents, our children. With our true friends, however, we can be all of who we are. We are no one’s child, parent or spouse; we are only ourselves. Friendships shore us up and assure us that somewhere, changed, but not entirely lost in translation, that whole person still exists.
I’ve seen a revival of friendship in my 40s and made new connections that are more real and substantial than most made in the 20 years that came before. I have, in fact, made some of the best friends of my life; women who really know me, who share and laugh with me, and come unhesitatingly to my side in times of need.
The value of these friendships shines through when I need them most. When I wrote to one of my dearest friends about a recent health scare, she wrote back:
“I cried tears of joy and thankfulness and I think some sorrow, too, that you had to face that.”
The tears that I had not cried on my own behalf fell then. Tears of joy and thankfulness.
The very best kind.