I believe I wouldn’t be the person I am today without the people who I am privileged to call my fiends. I deeply value my friendships, but lately life has been testing what the word “friend” really means to me.
For nine years, I wrote diary entries every week to a now young adult whom I mentor. I purposefully signed off each entry with “I’m glad Ashley is my friend”, hoping she would one day come to understand the depth of those words. She is now 18 – an adult in society’s eyes – and our relationship is strained by the challenges that she is facing in life. My formal mentoring responsibilities have ended, and it is sometimes hard to just be her friend. I find myself wondering where the mentoring stops and the friendship starts, and at what point do I start holding her to the same standards of friendship that I expect from others?
Around the same time, my friend Laurie was stricken with brain cancer. This young and adventurous woman, who is more intelligent and witty than most people I know, was stricken with the worst fate imaginable – losing her mind. Her personality and disposition are still there. Her body language expresses what she’s thinking. But what she’s saying makes no sense most of the time. Is she any less my friend because she confuses me and my story with the many other people in her life? Do I have to be any more her friend because she is now in this terrible situation? What is my responsibility to her as her friend?
Then I joined Facebook, where every so often I get a “Friend Request”. Sometimes it’s from someone I consider to be a friend, but more likely it’s from a colleague, former classmate, or someone who knows someone who knows me. I find the use of the word friend, in this context, to be insulting and I resent that Facebook is diluting the meaning of this treasured word. What effect will it have on the next generation’s definition of and value placed on the word “friend”?
I believe that a friend is loyal – not easily swayed by another who is more popular, less caustic, richer or easier to be with. I believe that a friend is accepting of the strange behaviors and flaws that we each carry around. I believe that a friend doesn’t judge, but can offer a perspective from a viewpoint that few others are privileged to have. I believe that friends can put the distance of time between each other in order to mutually work through whatever is needed, and still come back to each other without missing a beat. I believe that friendship doesn’t just exist in the shared experiences and mindless banter of the day, but also in the deepest depths of the soul – so when the mind is gone, the heart still can connect to the priceless gift of the friend that you know so well.
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