Having and Being 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. It was an obvious choice for February with Valentine’s Day right in the middle of the month, but also by this time of the year, after a winter’s worth of indoor recesses, we were all ready to learn to appreciate each other once again.

One of my favorite books to read with the class in February 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. And now is a wonderful time to celebrate and thank those special friends that make our lives beautiful. Thank you…you know who you are.

Should We Just Resolve to Persevere? Maybe That’s Enough

A show of hands from those of you who have already fallen off the wagon of your New Year’s resolutions? Right, I thought so. This post, now two weeks past the date I had set on my schedule – one of my resolutions – is living proof of why my hand is raised high, too.

By mid-February, the newness of January’s resolutions has likely diminished quite a bit, just as the excitement over winter’s first snow has worn thin, with each new snowfall the wonder of it replaced by the weariness of having to clear the driveway yet again. The excitement and resolve with which we all begin a new year can become frayed as the hard work it takes to stay with a promise made to yourself becomes a reality.

By now, I am over winter and ready for spring, but I recognize that no matter the time of year, there are often “winters” of the spirit, too, times when we are weary, overwhelmed with the minutiae of our days and weeks, and just feeling uninspired by life. The sky is cold and gray, and so are we.

This would be a moment to say something along the lines of “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.” True enough but we’ve all been around long enough to know it isn’t always that easy. Maybe the tough going we face is related to poor health, grief, financial concerns, depression, or just big life questions, to which there are no easy answers, no readily available bootstraps with which we can pull ourselves back to our feet.

It is during these winters of the spirit, that maybe a gentler approach is needed to achieving the goals set with so much enthusiasm in January. John D. Rockefeller once said, “I do not think that there is any other quality so essential to success of any kind as the quality of perseverance. It overcomes almost everything, even nature.” To persevere through the winter in anticipation of the spring, to not give up, but to do your best to stick with it, even if ‘it’ – whatever ‘it’ is – falls short of what you hoped to accomplish. Maybe it is late, but here it is, and maybe that is enough. Enough to do, enough to expect, enough to carry me through until the new habits are formed, and the second wind of springtime hits in oh about a month or so.

Healthy Friendship

Over the holidays, I regularly host a large ornament exchange, to which i invite about fifty people, and maybe twenty to thirty come. We always have a great time, and many of these friends tell me it is the highlight of their holiday season, which is nice, because it is certainly a highlight of mine. Why? Our children (who were the basis of our acquaintance, friendship and frequent socializing years ago) are grown and gone now, and with our busy work schedules and other commitments, many of us only see each other at this annual event; and sadly,we are not unusual. Many adults are alone more than they’d like to be, and if this solitude becomes isolation or loneliness, it can have an effect on our health and of course, our overall quality of life.

Let’s face it, adult friendships are typically forged through work or at school or sporting events with the kids. Once that is gone, it takes a much more intentional effort to make the social connections that everyone needs to thrive. But the effort is worth it, not only to fill our social calendars (if that’s what we want), but also to stay physically and mentally healthy. We are above and 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.

I find that I am conversely more protective of my alone time, and at the same time more open to saying yes to social outings with acquaintances and neighbors I don’t know so well. The paradox has provided a certain balance while making life more interesting. I’ve even 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.” What are you waiting for?