Hold Fast To Your Friendships

Hold Fast To Your Friendships

It is said that a person is fortunate if he or she has a half dozen real friends throughout a lifetime. I believe that. Most of us have hundreds of acquaintances but real friendship is rare.

Think about it. How many people are there with whom you can strip away the masks we all wear and be yourself, warts and all, wounds and all. How many people would you trust with the information that you had cheated on an exam or stolen money or had an affair? How many accept you unconditionally without expecting you to be perfect? There is a reason real friends are rare.

A close friendship with another human being is a gift from God. It enables us to accept and be accepted for who we are. With a friend, we share our hidden longings, our deepest secrets, our shadow side, because we trust our friend at a level we dare not go with mere acquaintances,

Friendship goes beyond mere acceptance. Friends support one another, laugh and cry with one another, get goofy, act weird, rejoice in our little victories as though they were their own. True friends share an intimacy with one another that is rare in life. Someone described intimacy as “in-to-me-see.” Not a bad description of real intimacy. Only close friends can trust another person enough to invite him inside his soul.

Friendship knows no boundary of age or gender or race. During this past year, I, this Irish Catholic, former priest, lost my best friend, a Polish-born Jewish professor, 18 years older than I. It was a devastating loss because, with the exception of my wife, I had felt closer to him than to any other human being. How do you explain that kind of thing except to acknowledge that friendship has a way of transcending background and beliefs and all the other stuff that we foolishly allow to divide us.

My friend's passing did serve to remind me again of the transitory nature of all our relationships. The pity is, if a friendship is lost, not due to a friend's death but because we have let it die. Your friend moves away; you take different career paths; whatever the reason, you lose track of someone who was a real soul mate. You let yourself fall out of friendship. Ah! That's a shame.

If you don't mind some codgerly counsel, don't let that happen to you. Hold on for dear life to your real friends. There are few things in life more precious.

Magic Happens When Giving and Receiving Become One

I find myself re-reading “Tuesdays With Morrie” for the third time. What a marvelous read ! For those of you who have not read it, “Tuesdays With Morrie” is the story of an old professor dying of ALS, spending his Tuesdays with a former student, sharing with him some of life's great secrets. Despite his weakening condition, Morrie takes time to talk, not only to the young man, but to many other people who come to the old man's house with their problems.

At one point in the book, the dying man asks his former student, “Why do you think it's important for me to listen to other people's problems ? Don't I have enough pain and suffering of my own ?” He answers his own question. “Of course I do, but giving to other people is what makes me feel ALIVE. When I give my time, when I can make someone smile after he was feeling sad, it's as close to healthy as I ever feel.”

I think most of us, as we age, can relate to Morrie's desire to feel ALIVE. We go to fitness centers or buy new clothes so we can look better. We leave the house and go on a trip to get out of our rut. We re-arrange the furniture or plant a garden or get ourselves a tummy tuck or a viagra prescription so we can demonstrate to ourselves and to others that we may be old but we're not dead. All these behaviors are very natural and perhaps helpful but I suspect that none of them are as effective as Morrie's formula for feeling really alive, giving to other people.

It's hardly a new idea. Who has not bee touched by the Prayer of St.Francis Assisi….the one that goes “It is in giving that we receive, in loving that we are loved etc.” But we forget, get preoccupied with ourselves and our own issues. We're afraid to give of ourselves lest someone take advantage of us.

I recall talking to a recently retired man a while back who admitted to me that he was bored with life. I suggested to him that he consider volunteering. “Oh,no, not me,” he said emphatically. “Whatever I do, I want to get paid for.” He prefered being bored to, in his words, “being a sucker and working for nothing.”

I don't think Morrie thought he was being taken advantage of by people who looked for his counsel, even as he was dying. Morrie was wise enough to know that he needed them as much as they needed him. We are built that way, we human beings. Despite our illusion of independence, we need one another. We need to give and to receive. The magic happens when the two become one.