The Elegance of Friendship

IMG_1851A close friend and I meet for an early morning walk every Sunday morning. Exercise is secondary to spending time together. As we make our way down the sidewalks of the town where we both grew up, I sometimes imagine us as two little girls with matching brunette ponytails and hair bows walking to school together more than fifty years ago. We’ve been friends our entire lives.

Together we’ve experienced birthday parties, sleepovers, boyfriends, homework, graduations, weddings, new homes, children, grandchildren, aging parents, and a few things we’d never admit. I recently gave her a little sign that said, “We’ll always be friends. You know too much!”

Research has long shown friendship is an important factor in well-being. Loneliness and social isolation can increase risk of health conditions like depression, anxiety, heart disease, and stroke. A 2010 study at Brigham Young University concluded loneliness is as harmful to physical health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

Being in a true friendship gives us the opportunity to practice elegant social behaviors. Friendship requires us to be loyal, thoughtful, vulnerable, forgiving, and unselfish. A good friend shares life’s joys and sorrows and helps us become our best selves.

Friends can be people we’ve known forever or just recently met. We can make new friends anywhere there are people – work, museums, gyms, libraries, clubs, churches, parks, and classes. I have a wonderful new friend with whom I share many interests. Shortly after meeting her, she reminded me of that old Girl Scout song, “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other gold.”

We don’t have to be the same age as our friends. Some of my closest friends are over eighty. I value their experience and their wisdom. They’re fun to hang out with, and they inspire me to stay physically and mentally active. On the other hand, I have friends half my age who try their best to keep me young and hip.

Sometimes we’re lucky enough to be related to our friends. Parents, children, siblings, and extended family members can offer a unique form of friendship and support. I’m personally blessed to be married to my best friend. Of course, we can’t forget our four-legged friends for unmatched loyalty and companionship.

As much as I love being with friends, I enjoy my own company, too. I think we each instinctually know our best balance of time spent in the company of others and time spent in solitude. It’s true if you make friends with yourself, you will never be alone. We must learn to treat ourselves well, speak kindly to ourselves, and lift ourselves up as we would a close friend.

Joan Walsh Anglund wrote and illustrated a charming children’s book in 1958 wonderfully titled, A Friend Is Someone Who Likes You. That’s really all a friend needs to do. Like us. Care for us. Have our back. And remember what Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “The only way to have a friend is to be one.” §

“A good friend is like a four-leaf clover, hard to find and lucky to have.”
~Irish Proverb

Featured Art ~ Childhood Idyll, William-Adolphe Bouguereau, 1900

The Gift of Miracles

It’s a wonderful time of the year to believe in miracles! Albert Einstein said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as if everything is a miracle.”

Consider the ubiquitous trees strapped to car tops, beckoning from store windows or decorating your home. While all the earth lies brown and dormant, an evergreen tree remains fresh and verdant, unfazed by winter’s harsh cold and snow. Underneath all the tinsel, lights and ornaments is a miraculous symbol of eternal love and life.

Our fresh-cut Christmas tree stands outside on the deck off the living room. Through unadorned glass doors, it twinkles with simple white lights. We frequently see birds flutter around the tree and alight on branches like a scene from a greeting card.

In my mind, birds carry garland in their beaks and gracefully drape the tree with gossamer ribbon. Woodland animals gather around the tree and sing carols. They are dressed, of course, in winter coats and scarves. And why not? Birds, deer, squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, foxes and raccoons are such magical creatures.

Just imagine seeing one for the first time! Sweet, cute, funny and majestic barely begin to describe them. The sight of one flying, hopping or scurrying through our yard thrills me and ignites my imagination.

The holiday season brings out the child in us. As we get older, it’s easy to become cynical, to take for granted the miracles and magic, and focus on the muck. Perhaps we get a little too big for our britches, too smart and sophisticated for visions of sugarplums and the like. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “The invariable mark of wisdom is to see the miraculous in the common.”

With the innocence of a child, take a closer look at nature this season. A brilliant star, a red poinsettia, a silent snow, a newborn baby all offer tangible proof of the marvelous miracles all around us.

Maybe then we will be inspired to do the very grown-up work of seeing and manifesting intangible miracles of grace, forgiveness, courage, hope, faith and love ~ all the beautiful things the holiday season is really about. §