WHY NOT A NATIONAL FRIENDSHIP DAY?
This month we will honor our fathers as we did our mothers in May. There is a day to remember grandparents, and Valentine’s Day for romancing lovers. We have national days of commemoration for all sorts of people and events. Why not a day to remember and honor our friends?
The motto could be something like: “A friend is a terrible thing to waste,” or “Friendship means never having to say ‘call me.’” Or we could just stick with “A friend in need is a friend indeed.” The logo could suggest “this is your brain without a friend.”
Aristotle said that friendship had three functions: It required that friends must enjoy each other’s company; be useful to one another; and share a common commitment to good. The great philosopher also suggested that genuine friendship was reciprocal and could withstand any pressures placed upon it. That works for me.
I’ve had invisible friends, lifelong friends, long distance friends, new friends, rediscovered friends, and friends who are really my family. All of them have brought me comfort, immeasurable joy, laughter, insight, and a unique kind of love.
Bill F. and Teresa P. are my most treasured invisible friends. I’ve never laid eyes on either one of them, yet they fill my life with such meaning and connection. Bill and I “met” years ago when my first book was published. He and his wife Boots lived in Arizona when he wrote me praising the book which he had purchased for his daughter. I wrote to thank him, asking for his daughter’s name so I could send her an autographed copy. That’s how our epistolary friendship started. It went on for years. We never spoke; to do so would have broken the magic of our written exchanges in the days before the Internet. One day after we’d been corresponding for several years, Bill told me he had Lou Gehrig’s Disease. I sensed exactly the day on which I should call him to say goodbye. He could hear my voice but could say nothing in return. It was a profound moment between two people who had grown to know and love each other. After Bill died, I kept in touch with Boots and Carol, the daughter for whom I’d signed the book. They came to see me the weekend that Princess Diana died and so we shared another shocking loss together. I visited them in Arizona. We’ve lost touch now, but Bill is always in my heart.
Teresa is my prison penpal, wrongly incarcerated for accidentally killing the man who was sexually assaulting her. We got acquainted through a women writer’s newsletter and have been corresponding for more than a dozen years now. Again, I’ve never called her; our only communication is through letters. Yet we are as close as two friends can be, sharing our lives in a way that is rare and meaningful. We learn from each other, laugh at the world’s insanity, share our writings and our hopes for the world. Once she is paroled, which many of her friends are working on, I will travel to California to hug her and to say thanks, for her strength and character inspire me and I would be less of a human being without her in my life.
My lifelong friends include Emma and Jean to whom I’ve been attached for 53 years – since we shared secrets and pranks in junior high school. They are the oldest chums in my Crone group, comprised of six women (and me) who make such a difference in my life that it is hard to quantify or describe. They are my sisters, my confidantes, my soulmates. They are the family I’ve lost; the support system I turn to in tough times, the zanies I laugh with till my sides hurt.
Among my long-distance friends whom I cherish are Elson, a lovely African man whom I met in Malawi over twenty years ago when I stayed at the hotel he was managing, and Lena, my Thai sister who guided me through the year that I lived in Chiang Mai. There are others from China, Bangladesh, Romania, Italy, Australia, and elsewhere who have enriched my life in ways both practical and poetic. (If you’re reading this essay, you know who you are!)
Then there are the friends I’ve made since moving to Vermont who add such a glow to my life. And there’s Peg, with whom I’ve recently reconnected after relying on Christmas cards for 37 years to keep in touch. There are friends of friends, kids of friends, and my kids’ friends.
I am so blessed with good and faithful friends that I’d like to declare a day for them – as a way to say thank you; I couldn’t do it without you; I love you. Because as Anais Nin knew, “each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive…”
To put it more mundanely, as Marlene Dietrich did, “It’s the friends you can call up at 4:00 a.m. that matter.” If you have friends like that, give them a shout out, because you, like me, have a rare and precious gift and such gems should not go unacknowledged.
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