In my early 20s and planning a wedding that my fiancé and I could barely afford, I confided to a colleague that I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings but that we were paying for the wedding ourselves and couldn’t afford to invite the staffs of the two schools where we worked.
Nearly twice my age, my colleague laughed at my earnestness. “Look,” he said, “think about which people will still be part of your life when you’re my age. You’ll find you’re lucky to have three or four true friends in a lifetime.”
His advice was no help in putting together my guest list, and I lost touch with him a couple of years later. But I’ve often thought about how he defined friendship. And I think that I must be far luckier than he was to call so many people my friends.
But I’m not nearly so lucky as today’s 20-somethings, who have hundreds of friends on social networking sites, while I have only 169 after years on the site. I could probably have more if I’d only broaden my definition to include the new verb defined in Dictionary.com: “to add (a person) to one’s list of contacts on a social-networking Web site.”
Recently, I ignored friend requests from two people who I felt had treated me badly. When I told my daughter about it, she said, “You’re right, Mom. They’re mean girls. But you and your generation take Facebook way too seriously.”
So what does it mean to call someone a friend? I like Judith Viorst’s definition in “Friends, Good Friends—and Such Good Friends,” an essay she wrote for Redbook magazine:
There are medium friends, and pretty good friends, and very good friends indeed, and these friendships are defined by their level of intimacy. And what we’ll reveal at each of these levels of intimacy is calibrated with care. We might tell a medium friend, for example, that yesterday we had a fight with our husband. And we might tell a pretty good friend that this fight with our husband made us so mad that we slept on the couch. And we might tell a very good friend that the reason we got so mad in that fight that we slept on the couch had something to do with that girl who works in his office. But it’s only to our very best friends that we’re willing to tell all, to tell what’s going on with that girl in his office.
The best of friends, I still believe, totally love and support and trust each other, and bare to each other the secrets of their souls, and run—no questions asked—to help each other, and tell harsh truths to each other when they must be told.
I would never define friendship in the narrow terms of my former colleague. But neither can I find it in me to feign friendship with someone who I feel has a track record of using people and casting them aside.
Friendship is sometimes fluid. I have often found friends in unexpected places at the times when I needed them most—when I’ve been sick or weak or discouraged. And I have been a friend to others in such times of their own need. Accidental angels on gossamer wings, we drift out of each other’s lives when the moment of need is past. And I’m truly thankful for those willing to be friends in moments of need.
In Luke’s version of Jesus teaching the Lord’s Prayer to the disciples, Jesus speaks of friendship in these terms:
Then He said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and goes to him at midnight and says to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves ; 6 for a friend of mine has come to me from a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; 7 and from inside he answers and says, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been shut and my children and I are in bed ; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ 8 “I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will get up and give him as much as he needs. 9 “So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find ; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10 “For everyone who asks, receives ; and he who seeks, finds ; and to him who knocks, it will be opened. (New American Standard version)
My dearest friends and I would give each other that loaf of bread on the first knock at the door. My good friends and I would step in when the intimate circle of friends is not enough. My friends and I would respond when we’re asked for help. And even those Facebook friends and I who are really only acquaintances would offer our prayers and positive energy when one of us posts a need.
So friends? I feel lucky to have them in whatever level of intimacy we can offer each other.
How about you? Tell me a tale of a friend, a good friend, or a dear friend.