Characteristics of a Beautiful Friend

To have a friend is a beautiful thing. To be a friend is as beautiful, if not more so, as it makes the rest of life, no matter how difficult, pretty beautiful, too.

Years ago when I taught second grade, we spent the month of February celebrating friendship. One of my favorite books to read with the class was Judith Viorst’s Rosie and Michael, the story of two friends who take turns narrating what makes their friendship so special.

What they describe are the characteristics of any beautiful relationship, whether it is between two friends, two loves, a parent and a child, or siblings. Here, illustrated by the words of Rosie and Michael, are the characteristics of any beautiful relationship:

* Friends accept each other as they are. “She likes me when I’m dopey and not just when I’m smart.” “I worry a lot about werewolves, and he understands.”

* They rely on each other in times of trouble. “When my parakeet died, I called Rosie.” “When my bike got swiped, I called Michael.”

* Friends are loyal to one another. “It wouldn’t matter if two billion people said she robbed a bank, if Rosie told me she didn’t, I’d believe her.”

* They are trustworthy, too. “If Michael told me a secret and people clonked me and bopped me, I wouldn’t tell what Michael’s secret was.”

* And if necessary, friends are forgiving. “And then if people said ‘Speak up or we’ll throw you in this quicksand,’ Rosie would forgive me for telling her secret.”

* Even if they disagree, friends can still stay friends. “Just because I call him a banana head, doesn’t mean that Michael’s not my friend.”

* Friends support each other, too. “Sometimes I get on the diving board and deicde that I’ve changed my mind. but Rosie wouldn’t laugh. She’s my friend.”

* Friends are honest with each other. “Michael is my friend. When he honest and truly wanted to know if his feet were smelling stinky, I honestly told him.”

* And they always have your back. “She’d hunt for me if kidnappers stole me away. And if I was never found again, she could have my Instamatic. She is my friend.”

* Special friends are the ones we think of first, last and all the times in between. “I’d never move to China without Michael.” ” I’d give her my last piece of chalk.”

To have a friend, to be a friend is one of the best gifts life has to offer. Now is a wonderful time to celebrate and thank those special friends that make our lives beautiful. Thank you…you know who you are.

The Value of Friendship in Middle Age

Over the holidays, I host an ornament exchange, to which about twenty to thirty friends come. We always have a great time, and many of them tell me it is the highlight of their holiday season, which is nice, because it is certainly a highlight of mine. Why? Our children (the basis of our friendship years ago) are grown and gone now. With our busy schedules, many of us only see each other at this annual event.

Sadly, we are not unusual. Many adults are alone more than they’d like to be. If solitude becomes isolation or loneliness, though, it can have an adverse effect on our health and overall quality of life.

Adult friendship is typically forged through work or school and sporting events with the kids. Once that is gone, it takes a much more intentional effort to make social connections. But the effort is worth it, not only to fill a social calendar, but also to maintain the physical and mental health needed to thrive in middle age. We are, after all, social beings, and one of the healthiest things we can do for ourselves is to cultivate our social lives.

One way to do this is to build on the wonderful way in which all of us become much more ourselves in middle age. By this time, pretense has fallen away. All of us have won and lost at life. We’ve questioned our decisions, and made small or radical changes as the years have gone by. We realize the value of companionship, of being seen and appreciated by someone we too see and appreciate. Without anything to prove, we can just enjoy each other. The pressure to impress is over.

Lately, I am conversely more protective of my alone time and more open to social outings with those I don’t know so well. The paradox provides a certain balance while making life more interesting, and I’ve found a few new friends along the way. Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche says, “The sun of real happiness shines in your life when you start to cherish others.” Friends, old and new, really do make life pretty sweet.