Being a Friend

Cookie - Oakland, California
Entered on October 23, 2008
Age Group: 50 - 65

Yesterday, sitting at the coffee place near my mechanic’s garage, while I was trying to catch up a bit on my reading of the bi-weekly, The Nation, and waiting for my car to be repaired, I was struck by a group of four women; contemporaries but strangers to me, nested at the next table. As I read about the morass of the presidential campaign, these friends covered everything from personal health to recent travel; whether or not to join in a dress-up-Cosmo party to view the movie version of “Sex in the City;” an upcoming 60th birthday party; and the career plans of one of their sons. I wasn’t trying to listen; they were about 3 feet away.

Last week my friend Margaret and I went to Las Vegas to spend time with our mutual friend, Rosie, whose husband, Steve, died suddenly about two months ago. The three of us are close from years of work and play together, and now we have this loss in common: Margaret’s John died 8 years ago and my Scott, 10. Listening to the laughter and fully-engaged conversation of the foursome at the coffee spot, feeling their palpable closeness, rekindled the energy flow of that visit.

The feelings of frustration and powerlessness at effecting change in the world stimulated by what I was reading were balanced by the warmth and electricity in the group next to me and by my recollection of my own dear friends. I was deeply reminded of how much I believe in the core importance of friendship.

The concept, and especially the actual experience, of having a friend is grounding. Over time a combination of connection and understanding is developed that results in knowing you can ask a friend any question at any time and, usually, knowing when it’s not OK to question. When there is joy to be celebrated, like a wedding or a birth or a real date for the first time in years—or even simply a new pair of wonderful shoes—a friend will understand and will celebrate with you, no explanation needed.

Being in a friendship means talking like those women were talking; like the talking that Margaret and Rosie and I engaged in, danced through, cried over and enjoyed. Not unlike an electrical system, being a friend and having a friend, being in balanced to-and-fro, give-and-receive friendships helps to make sure our systems aren’t firing randomly with no enlightened result, nor giving out shocks that can damage.

In the midst of misery and chaos, as death or divorce can bring, connecting with a friend provides stability and hope. While Margaret and I were with Rosie, I sensed that feeling and how it helped to create the insulation needed to cushion the disruptions in her power supply, her life energy, that come with deep grief. Listening to her describe success in the tasks she now does that Steve used to perform, like operating the swimming pool equipment, assures she will keep building on that system herself.

I finished my tea, gathered up my papers and nodded a smiling farewell to my temporary neighbors at the coffee place. Walking back to the mechanic, my heart was fuller and lighter, knowing that I too was a part of similar gatherings and how worthwhile it is to sustain those friendships.