I grew up not knowing a long term friendship like some folks. For many reasons. I moved a lot when I was a kid, so friendships ended before they even had a chance to prosper with the evolution of my growth into adolescence. I was also kind of self absorbed as a teenager and admittedly, I realize now, that I did not work hard to keep friendships over distance and time. As I sprouted into adulthood, I found it difficult to make worthwhile friendships because so much seemed to depend on us having similar circumstances to keep friendships active. Perhaps some of it was that I didn’t work hard enough to bridge circumstantial gaps to keep the friendships alive.
In any event, I did not have friendships nurtured from childhood into adulthood. I remember being slightly jealous of my husband when we first started dating. He had a best-friend that he had grown up with, from middle school into adulthood. During their friendship they surely had arguments (I suspect I was one of them!), changes of circumstances, differences of opinion and physical distance between them. But, if you were to ask my husband today the name of his best friend, he would say, Cisco. Cisco passed away tragically in 2009. My husband was heartbroken. He and his best friend had gone though one of their occasional rough patches, which inevitably happened during the almost 20 year span of friendship, but they had smoothed things out not long before Cisco’s death. My husband is so thankful that he had that time. I, of course, had no reference point to truly understand this type of bond, never having had one quite like that of my own.
Friendships, especially best-friendships, take work, understanding, tweaking, re-building and repair, especially as they grow and change. My husband and his best friend followed that model. At some point, I realized most of my failed friendships were due to my lack of commitment to the friendship when things got tough, when disagreements came up and when situations changed. Usually, I just walked away from a friendship when the going got tough. I didn’t just walk away until I came to my senses. I just walked away and never looked back. Which, on several occasions was probably the right thing to do, some of the more toxic relationships need to never be looked back upon.
Once I discovered that friendships required a level of commitment I never truly gave, I declared to myself that I would be a better friend with my future relationships. I would be more accommodating, more understanding, more trusting and vulnerable, more authentic. However, as an adult, in a new place, I found it difficult to seek out and foster the kind of friendship I dreamed about. It was as though friendship trains were chugging along all around me, but none were making any stops for me to hop on. The few friendships I happened upon were one sided or the type of friendship that only lived by my desire and work to have a “best friend” but not the other person’s desire and work. That sounds kind of sad when you say it out loud!
Over the years however, I made some amazing acquaintances. Acquaintances who were fantastic individuals, inspiring people, kind souls who brought much joy to my life. But, they weren’t the coveted friendships I longed to enjoy. They were not the friendships found in the romantic novels, movies or even favorite sit-com TV shows. They were great, don’t get me wrong, they continue to be great acquaintances and share many similarities with friendship. These acquaintances care, support, share kindness and generosity and are friendly. They’ve become a community to which I am thankful to belong. But, they aren’t the folks who I want to get together with on Friday night, drink wine, eat sushi and have a dance party with in the living room! I bet they all would appreciate that sentiment! I would absolutely love to meet them for dinner, chat about work, career, home, politics and religion on a level that is not superficial, but personal, yet not bare naked personal.
During a time when I felt most lost, outcast and displaced, as a new mom of a special needs, medically complex child, I had this community of acquaintances sharing positive energy, kindness, prayers, motivation, empathy and love. They found joy in my joy, they felt pain in my pain. They were and continue to be amazing. But, I did not call any one of them at night crying tears of despair and loneliness that I sometimes felt under the weight of parenting, feeling held hostage by fear of making a mistake with such a preciously, angelic creature entrusted into my care. I did not. I took to writing about some of it on Facebook and the community responded, and that was great. Their responses were often a helpful tool reminding me that the world is good, people are generous, love is everywhere and it sometimes takes a village.
These folks, this community of acquaintances, I would not ordinarily refer to as “acquaintances”. I would refer to these individuals, each of them, as friends. Because, they defy the conventional idea of acquaintanceship; that acquaintances are superficial, that they are not give and take relationships, that they are not real. Mine are. Perhaps that is because good people with open minds, sensitive hearts and kind souls can connect in ways that were not possible many years ago. This community I speak of, it is made up of relationships that should be classified as something between acquaintanceship and friendship. These relationships start on a basic level of humanity and they become long term and thrive with the connectivity of technology. It is a remarkable thing.
So, though I did not have a long term friendship that withstood the years, like my husband, I did get to experience something pretty amazing in people, in community. And that’s pretty great.
Furthermore, my sweet daughter led me down a most coveted path, without my even realizing it at the time. She was the conduit used to find a true and steady sisterhood. Finding this sisterhood was both by divine design and serendipitous fortune. The friendships I longed for with layers of depth, fluidity of give and take, unyielding support, gracious understanding, and respect swathed in love, was what she helped me to find and nurture. I truly believe she knew this sisterhood would keep me when I could no longer keep her.
These women opened their hearts, their minds and their arms to me, my daughter and my family. I could feel how different these relationships were from those I had experienced before. The interactions sparkled with a raw, genuine and authentic aura that I never knew existed. There was empathy shared between the women, which is so much greater than sympathy. The relationships were not one sided. Rather there was an unspoken mutual vulnerability between the whole group. I remember having a gathering one evening and sharing a story of feeling like an incompetent mom, and the response was, “There is no judgement here”! And the best part about the statement was that it was true! I not only heard the words, I felt them.
I love this sisterhood. I am so very thankful for it. They embraced me along my journey and now we are journeying together. I am blessed to have been given this gift. These women embraced me at a point where I did not feel embraceable. They have been one of the biggest reasons I find strength on days I struggle most. Their support, the superpower of their unity, their devotion, their love and respect lift me up when I fall down. And, let’s face it, I fall down a lot more these days without my treasured love, my daughter. They are my cheerleaders. I am their cheerleader. They surround me in love and support. I give them the most authentic version of myself available.
Years ago, at a seminar I attended, Nido Qubein, the speaker at the seminar, said something to the effect of,”If you want to be great, surround yourself by great people. If you want to be successful, surround yourself with successful people”. Perhaps that is not exactly what he said, but the sentiment is the same. I valued what he said. I intended to live my life in that way, understanding that so much of who I am is a reflection of those who surround me. I am strong because I surround myself with strong people. I am surviving because I surround myself with survivors. I am loving and respectful because I surround myself with loving and respectful people. So, when my friends, my sisters, say something to me like, “you are so strong”, “I am so proud of you”, “you are amazing”, I remind them that I am a reflection of what surrounds me, I am a reflection of you, all of you.