My husband Bill and I have a friend named Patrick. He is a friend to both of us for different reasons. Bill worked for Patrick in one phase of his career; Patrick worked for me in another. And we’re all still friends!
He came to visit recently from California, and it got me thinking about friendships we make throughout our lives, how they stir our warmest memories. Take a moment of think of someone who has had staying power in your life, who makes you smile by the mere thought of them. Patrick is one of those people for Bill and me.
We are made to be in kinship with others, but if you’re anything like me, you forget. We just keep marching ahead in life—the next goal crossed off the list, the next job, the next home project that needs work. Kids too, make time with friends hard—we’re watching and guiding or worrying about their latest bonehead mistake. We are so busy that we forget to reach out to our friends, just to connect, and laugh out loud with them.
Here’s what’s not funny: loneliness. Two writers recently coined the phrase “Deaths of Despair”, which is the surge in mortality rates today due to suicide, drug overdoses and alcohol abuse. I find myself talking about ‘deaths of despair’ in every workshop I give now, because an underlying social factor in these deaths is horrific loneliness. This is what happens when we let friendships dim. That happened to me in the building years of my career, and I marveled at others, like my friend Bridget, who made sure she kept her book club every Thursday night with her girlfriends. She was raising 3 small kids but this night was sacred and she rarely missed it.
Friendships fill the holes inside us. It’s been said a friend is someone who knows the truth for you, until you can know it for yourself. They see all of you. They fill our yearning to belong and to be accepted just for who we are. From acceptance comes self-acceptance so in very real way, friendships complete us.
I have friendships today because, yes, I have more time, but also because I have put elbow grease into these relationships, and found others who were willing to do that too. I recognized that I could have outer success, but still feel horrific loneliness under the surface of it all. So I keep planting seeds before the soil becomes clay, and get on airplanes myself, like Patrick did this weekend.
Rumi said: “Be a lamp, a lifeboat, a ladder. Help someone’s soul heal.” My friends do all of these things for me, and I, in turn, for them.