It sprinkles birthday cards and sparkly pink wrapping paper. It inhabits the inside of a rusty locket. It is inscribed with gel pen on a secret origami note that took seventeen folds to prepare. And yet, it is that simple six letter word that’s nonchalantly smacked on people everyday: friend.
What is a friend anyway? A friend is someone I can fearlessly pour my thoughts on. Someone I can share a silent understanding without the anxieties of trying to be interesting or funny. A friend will feel hurt when I’m hurt and cry when I cry. Even if I unflatteringly fell down a flight of stairs with a snickering audience to prove it or if I confidently shouted the wrong answer only to find myself coiling my pride back into my seat, a friend will be there to pick me up and dust me off.
Despite having moved numerous times, I’ve managed to make a few acquaintances and was lucky enough to have been blessed with one bona fide friend along the way. It is truly incredible that there could possibly be someone out there who doesn’t relate to me by blood, rather by a broad ray of comradeship which encompasses everything from the tearful laughter to the somber concern. In this light, I now rue the countless times I have declared people my friend without realizing that the bond I spoke of never existed.
Thus, I believe in the comprehensive, voluptuous and complete meaning of words. When I say villain, I’m talking about the dark creature who never laughs, but cackles – and only when victims are in horrific disarray. When I say lover, I’m talking about the suave, rose-bearing gardener with that passionate sweep-you-off-your-toes charm. This law of speech is especially true for the word friend; it is a title of great consequence.
So what has become of this beloved word “friend”? On Myspace it is all too easy to add as many “friends” as you please without hesitation, or for that matter, without communication. High school hallways are littered with talk of friends, but in context of quantity over quality; it is a sign of status among peers – friendship has become common.
But in truth, the title of friend is anything but ordinary, rather one of grand prestige. An honorary plaque that hangs above the fireplace or a dignified insignia emblazoned on a suit jacket. Friendship requires some serious back watching and responsive listening. It requires laying down heavy time and dedication; something the average acquaintance can’t handle. Yet this loaded word is stamped on just about anyone, so as long as they don’t pose a direct threat and are socially acceptable. I’ve found that the word “friend” has been tossed around too many times to mean anything anymore. It’s become just another word, as empty as the next. It is unjust to be so generous with such a beautiful occurrence. After all, what friendship embodies is far more binding. A declaration of friendship is a contract signed in loyalty and respect.
Handing out the title of friend to just anyone soils its true meaning. I believe friendship deserves better than that, so I will say it when I mean it.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.