Air, Earth, Fire, Water, Friends are a truer list of life’s essential elements. Our family Earths us while our friends give us Air. Leaving home and homeland is daunting. Keeping your own counsel can shield you temporarily, but it makes life dreary, confining and lonely.
Making friends is essential to making a life. They can give you a sense of belonging, make you feel at home, add to the enjoyment of life’s experiences. Friendship needs mutual investment because sharing thoughts and feelings leaves a person vulnerable. You share in each other’s happiness and give each other strength in difficult times or when important decisions have to be made. Friends stand up around you analogous to the Banyan tree extending aerial roots to the ground, keeping you from being blown off course.
A person needs layers of friends, acquaintances, loose contacts during a lifetime. A woman needs a friend to go with her when she doesn’t feel safe going alone. People relocate for career or other reasons and have to make new friends. Some young people seek attachment and exclusivity with friends but as one grows self-reliant and independent you don’t need that. Self reliance is a good thing because as you get old it’s more difficult to make new close friends. By that time people either have their friends or the effort is too much to connect with a new person.
We can choose our friends but from where and when will they come is a mystery, or a miracle predestined by Divine Will. Lived experience teaches that each friend is unique in the way that each tile in a mosaic is unique. They may be from different countries, cultures, speak another language but they have traits and interests in common. If their view of the world is similar to your own that will help you live in harmony.
My closest friends were Kate and Ann from Ballindine, Larry from Council Bluffs, Iowa, Pia from Guayaquil, Ecuador, Peggy and Clint from New Jersey, Anna from Havana, Cuba, Stanley from New Jersey. We became family as well as part of each other’s families. We met through work or social occasions. Some of us were quiet, others the life of the party. Larry and I had a life of friendship, love and romance together. He introduced my sister to his friend Walter whom she married.
There was a time my mother and Ann’s mother came to visit at the same time as Pia’s sisters Doro and Cecilia. We organised a picnic and drove to New Hope, Pennsylvania via the most scenic route to enjoy it. The girls from Ecuador spoke their native Castilian Spanish and a little English. The mothers and Irish girls spoke English and a few words in Spanglish. With gestures, sign language and Pia speaking Spanish and English, sometimes mixing up the sides, there was no difficulty having fun.
Anna spoke Cuban Spanish which is like that spoken in Seville and was very fluent in English. Her parents left Poland to escape Hitler and settled in Cuba. Anna and her sister were born there. When Castro came to power Anna and Morris who became her husband later, were 21 and got smuggled out to Puerto Rico by a Jewish charity. They continued on to Toronto, then New York and their families got out of Cuba and joined them.
Anna and family belonged to a Reform Synagogue. I attended her son’s Bar Mitzvah where she was allowed to put on the shawl, carry the Torah and recite some prayers from it. A woman wouldn’t be allowed to do that in an Orthodox Rite. Later in the year her husband died and a few of us from the office went to his funeral service. On his first anniversary I went with her to the Synagogue as she recited the Mourner’s Kaddish.
Friendships can educate you and you may change the way you think about things. Kate, now widowed, lives in California, Peggy and Clint continue to be great party people. We catch up from time to time and its like we haven’t been apart, we are the same people we were years ago. The others have gone to their reward but are very much alive in my memory.
I love this poem about friendship by Dinah Muloch.
Oh, the comfort
the inexpressible comfort
of feeling safe with a person,
having neither to weigh thoughts,
nor measure words
but pouring them all right out,
just as they are–
the chaff and grain together–
certain that a faithful hand
will take and sift them–
keep what is worth keeping–
and with the breath of kindness
blow the rest away.
Afterthoughts: I like to see what I write in time and place and so I research a little to learn if any others are on my wavelength.
There is much about women’s friendships being for personal connection, mutual support and the amount of work women put into their friendships. Men’s friendships are said to be often about shared interests and sports activities. I was thinking that when boys and girls are socialized together more they may become similar in their friendships. And they may continue like that when they’re adults.
I read an interview with Zadie Smith about her book NW, in which she said that she was brought up with the sense that she was no different from her brothers or the men in college. But she came to understand that men and women are fundamentally different. It bothers her that society cannot understand difference and equality at the same time without seeing or thinking sameness.
The language of friendship has changed in this age of technology. The quality of friendship may be more like casual loose contacts. On Zoom, Twitter and all the rest there is the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship. We are becoming social robots without the conversation that is characteristic of friendship.
It surprised me that some writers refer back to Aristotle’s (384-322BC) philosophy of friendship. About 24 centuries of philosophers have been here since. Zadie Smith mentioned Hegel (1770-1831) as an influence. Someone referred to him as the “Aristotle of the Modern Era”.
On the other hand, I was at the funeral Mass for a cousin who died age 34. He was a lecturer at NUIG and his young friends from the university were very much participating in the Mass. A reading I expected to be from Scripture was instead offered as from John O’Donohue. That had a different ring to it. Of course he was influenced by Catholic Theology and Philosophy, Mystics, Celtic spirituality and the natural world all of which date back a few centuries.